Its not how I imagined this would end, but an ending it is. I know, many charachters did not recieve their archs. That is my fault and my fault alone. But I was happy to have written this, and if I had one regret it was that I could never devote the quality or time necessary to justify a better story, presented in a better way.
For those faithful few that for reasons unknown to me, have stuck around for this long, thank you.
If this blog is ever revived in the future, it will be with an entirely new story. As it stands, I’ll leave this blog running in case anyone enjoys the content that has been presented.
I am thankful for all of you. None of this would have happened if I had no audience to share with. Even those of you who I’ve never spoken to, I appreciate your patronage, if nothing else.
A figure dressed in white, laced with fine gold embroidery stood by, watching the scenes before him.
This was the culmination of centuries of effort, billions of lives lost.
This was humanity’s victory day.
The sound of a door opening alerted the man, turning aside his white cloak with a hand.
“Oh holy emperor, it is time. We will arrive at our destination soon.”
The soldier left at a sweep of the figure’s hand.
How many years had it taken? How many emperors like him dedicated themselves to this mission?
He glanced to a wall, and read aloud the message engraved there.
THE EMPEROR OF ROME MUST, ABOVE ALL ELSE:
-EXPAND THE LANDS OF ROME.
-REINFORCE THE MILITARY AT ANY CIVIC COST
-DESTROY ANY ENEMY, REGARDLESS OF DANGER.
IN THE HANDS OF MY SUCCESSORS, I PLACE THIS CHARGE.
ROME WILL WIN THROUGH. HAVE THIS FAITH.”
The emperor nodded. This followed the code, the holy writ passed down by the Church Hierarchical. He promised as much, in his coronation.
<An hour later>
The trip had been long. A decades journey, in fact. But he could not hand this off to a lesser charge. Gratian had lead Rome from the front. He never compromised in the faith of such adversity. Roman civilization demanded heroes, and sacrifices. He knew this well. It had been in-cultured in him from birth.
A loud ‘THUMP’ echoed through the waiting room. The figure, now clad in pearly white armor, checked to ensure all was prepared.
On either side of him, legionaries waited in practiced silence. These figures were of the XXI, his personal battle group.
He walked up towards them, knowing they were about to make history with their emperor, one last time.
“How long has it been, Victus, since those heady days, in our Aztec campaigns?”
The centurion being addressed, Victus, a man in his mid sixties, offered a wolf-like smile, just visible through the hard darkened visor affixed to his Galean mark XXI helmet.
“Forty-four years to the day my lord. I’ll never forget.”
The emperor patted his loyal centurion’s shoulder. Such old comrades were invaluable. Gratian had also demonstrated that, when at the peak of his victory, he was struck down by his most loyal companion.
Returning to the center of the long hall, the emperor faced a vast wall.
“Give me the standard.”
A single signifier moved from the masses of thousands of waiting legionaries, and marched toward the Emperor calmly, handing a simple crimson standard with a golden chi-rho and eagle.
The emperor took it, and began a slow walk forward, while the signifier returned to his ranks in silence.
“Rapax!” he called.
With perfect, practiced precision, ten-thousand heavy metallic boots stomped in unison, the legion facing forward, towards the wall that the emperor now stood before.
With a gesture, the room was unsealed, and the wall opened, revealing something extraordinary.
“By all the wonders and horrors Ive seen, all the things we’ve done, nothing…” Victus said, walking to the emperors side. His voice, over an internal radio-channel, was wrought with awe.
“Victus, tell me again where you were born. What were the circumstances.”
Victus paused for several moments.
“The southern-most tip of Africanum. I- I was the son of a settled legionnaire, Colonia Agri-“
“Did you ever think, son of Africanum, that you would ever have seen and done so much, in this life of yours?”
Victus began mumbling.
“The Incan wars, the Aztec invasions, our nuclear exchange with the Sun dynasty… Unification day, and now this….”
Victus answered with a shake of the head. He was without words.
“Know this truth, then. You have seen and done so much, because you made it so. Romes- no, humanities, moment of absolute victory did not come out of economics, or social ideology, or even religion. It did not come out of illusions regarding the grandeur of the roman ideal, or even from the sacrifices of the great heroes and generals that have lead us to this place, here.”
The emperor turned to Victus.
“The common legionnaire has done this. Under good imperial stewardship’s and bad, through religious war and upheaval, and even the revolutions we so painfully crushed. The massacres, the nuclear saturation, the glassing of the Sun dynasty, and even the civil wars. We survived it all, somehow, thanks to you. Gratian was nothing if not a great inspirational, perhaps managerial man. He could only summon warriors such as you together, put them in the right places at the right times, in spite of any corruption or disloyalty.”
The emperor began moving forward, his standard in hand.
“Let this be your moment. Think on all those who did not live to see it, and know that our sacrifices were not in vain.”
As the 21st legion watched with bated breath, Emperor Tiberius Hassan Amir, tribu Anatolia Gallia Victrix, second son to Emperor Sung, chosen by the Gallia branch of the imperial house, raised from four years of age to be the perfect emperor, the culmination of three-thousand years of continuous rule and martial excellence, the product of intensive gene-therapy, flash cloning, and rigorous mental and physical training, using samples a thousand years old, and the best minds of three continents.
The man who single handedly cast the Imperium act and in so doing made every man woman and child of the globe a full fledged citizen regardless of race, creed, faith or fortune. The man who had subdued entire continents with sword and nuclear fire. The man who on this day, changed everything.
It was he, stepping off the ramp of his “Trireme” class assault-cruiser, the standard of the eternal empire in hand, who became the first human being to set foot on Mars.
With a single strike the standard of the empire was planted in the swirling dust of this alien world. Strange winds moved the pseudo-plastic nanofibre banner.
“On this day, let it be known throughout the stars, that Rome and mankind are one in the same! On this day, let even the old gods we once cowered before tremble at what we have done! Now, and forevermore, let all know that no threat will ever assail us that we ourselves can not overcome! No boundaries limit our gaze! The Imperium principle, Gratian’s concordat, see now your fullfilment!”
The emperor raised his fist toward the bronze-tinted heavens.
“ROME HAS CONQUERED!”
The 21st echoed that cry, raising high their (now largely ceremonial) spathae.
The emperor smiled to himself, and reflected on the colonization and invasion plans already drawn up in full for the rest of the solar system. Beyond that, he could do little, but the emeperor knew that his successor, whomever that was to be, could continue on. Humanity, united under the banner of a city that had long turned into an amorphous mass of civilization and palaces, spanning the entire Italian peninsula, would forever become synonymous with this glorious species.
In his mind, he reflected on his predecessors. Caesar, Augustus, even Caligula and Nero, but especially Gratian. They could never have imagined what their darling city on the hill would do.
Given the patience of a few million years, and a consistent colonization effort, perhaps Human beings, under the same tribal banners with which they marched to slaughter in antiquity, will be seen across the stars.
But that is the dream of an aging man, on a strange red planet.
What is known is this:
the struggle was over.
They had won.
“Move the eighth up here, we need to skirt around the saxons, not collide with them.”
Gratian pointed at an area on the map in front of him, showing Germania in all her splendor: a warzone.
Nodding, an officer dashed out, running to a horse. It was hard to move people and soldiers around after they had been deployed, but Gratian was doing his best.
Many were doing their best in fact: the invasion was going well. Casualties, of course, were high: In the north, where the saxons were strongest, roman Garrisons chafed under regular assaults. Just recently, Sedes Francorum was retaken after a brief period of occupation.
The south was Gratian’s focus. Here two senior legions were emerging amongst the chaos of a rapid deployment out of Italy. Gratian’s senior troops were still mopping up greek holdouts, so the legions were mostly junior legionaires from Italy. This meant two things: he had loyal men, but men who were weak physically, mentally, and…
Well no, actually, spiritually these troops were something else.
As it happened the church began to ally itself ever more with the empire. Years of constant beneficiaries, state sponsored church construction, and the still-in-effect official order for “one empire, one god” meant that there was little reason for priests not to entangle themselves in civic affairs.
What Gratian had not count upon was the eager zealotry displayed in this youthful generation of troops. It was a thought that might be expanded upon later: control the spirit, control the mind? Tantalizing.
For now controlling germania would suffice. The saxons for all their expansion, failed to move east, and so lacked enough land to truly be considered a contender for victory here. Gratian was confident that with the 6000 soldiers he more or less had on hand, with a good 4000 arriving shortly, the absolute worst thing that could happen in his campaigns would be an awkward stalemate wherein the saxons would somehow manage to reenact the battle of teutoberg and return things to the status-quo. At best, with the current forces, Southern Germania could be seized, and the Saxons pushed to the northern tip of their lands: to a strange cold mysterious landmass in the north.
The remaining Franks would, hopefully, remain in place until such a time as when imperial troops could surround and destroy them, after the saxons were eliminated.
The main problem now was momentum. Gratian needed victories to roll in, immediately.
A soldier pushed his way into the emperor’s alpine command tent.
“Imperator, news from the east: The huns have returned.”
Gratian tossed a few scrolls he was carrying in the air.
“Well blast and damn them to whatever hells they come from. I have nothing to spare. Pull Paullus out of his Vandal operation and get him to fight those barbarians again. It seems if we keep throwing men at them, they’ll go away eventually.”
The messenger nodded, and left, just like the first.
Gratian ran some numbers through his head.
“Hmph. Paullus must have lost… ten-thousand by now? Good soldier. I’ll give him a villa or something.”
Gratian returned to his maps and planning.
It was a shame that so many had to face such grim fates in the name of progress. But that was the price that had to be paid. Rome’s veins needed to be greased now and then with the blood of heroes.
-From the analls of the Roman Church, adressed to a legion of soldiers departing from Rome to the north.
“Hear me and know, christian warriors! Your mother church marches with you and your holy emperor to drive those that would shatter the true faith ! In your arms lay the weapons of a war that shall shake the heavens and only you fateful sons have been ordained to wage it. But fear not! For our faith is strong! United behind the church hierarchical, we shall destroy any who would deny the truth of His word! Let hymns fill your hearts and resound from your marches, let new lands become enlightened with our divine word! For emperor, for Imperium, for divinity!
Paullus looked to the east, from the walls of his city.
As the military governor of what had become known as “the cordon”, it was up to him to defend what had proved to be a lynchpin for the empire. What was once Dacia crawled with barbarians, and it was his task, as always, to fight them.
but the border was far from Salona, an almost-greek city on the adriatic coast. The people here were noticeably free from the ravages of war. You could tell because of all the young men around.
On the border, such men would be left in shallow graves by now.
And why not, because the heroic emperor had paid such fine attention to the lives of his fellow troops. He predicted a massacre and that was exactly what he got. Thousands upon thousands died in the defense against the huns. An entire legion army-group, led by good generals, lead by himself.
Valentinianus needed but one legion to defeat the goths. One. And his austerity was rewarded with the love of his people, a balanced economy, a safer frontier.
Not so with his bloody little caesar. So much death for the empire now. So much. He felt he was the only one who could see that. The new soldiers were all young, Italians and Gauls. They agreed with the emperor. Called him a saint, like constantine. Saw him as the light.
Was Rome ever the light?
But then, like so many before, they were sent far. Far away, to oversee underdeveloped garrisons with auxiliaries resembling more foe than friend, poorly trained, armed, and prepared. The spawn of new imperial wealth.
But if it was not the light, Rome was at least fearsome. Gratian maintained an iron grip on the entire military. He pointed, the legions obeyed. Rome was becoming a military junta again, and everyone could tell. What was critical, was if this would pay off in the long run. Could an empire built on the backs of heroic sacrifices really sustain itself?
It was a question that weighed heavy of Paullus’ mind as he read this new transcript:
“IMPERIAL ORDERS: VANDALORUM:
-You, Sigisvultus Paullus, are hereby ordered to assault our neighbors, the Vandals, with whatever resources at your disposal as soon as humanly possible. You are free to execute your objectives as seen fit. Failure to comply within two years will result in you and your legions being branded traitors. Crush all opposition.
Paullus remembered those heady days not two decades ago when the vandals were one of the few things Rome could count on not to invade. Recently, they were weakened from warring with the Huns.
Evidently, that was good enough reason to disregard a history of cooperation and invade.
Paullus would need to begin recruiting again.
Salona would need to give up her young men.
This was the Roman way.
the worst thing, to Paullus at least was that he knew
deep in his very soul,
that he would comply without question.
“How very Roman of you.” he thought to himself. sitting in his office, surrounded by casualty lists.
An imperial report, submitted to the emperor. Author(s?) unknown.
Total military strength is on the rise, in line with economic reform resulting in the breakdown of large estates once owned by senators. Lands are now bound to the emperor above all, and it is he who directs the assumptions of lands, through a system of bureacracy and trusted officials. The result has been noticeable: lands are owned by many more individuals with vested interest in remaining loyal to the center of power, lest their right to own land be devalued.
Serious problems still exist in urban centers where poor gather in large numbers, while many fields remain under staffed after the fall of the slave-economy.
All african assets declared lost, save for those lands around Carthage which remain roman.
On the Huns:
Pyrrhic victory against the hunnic hordes at the hands of Sigisvultus Paullus has effectively reduced Hunnic presence to nomadic levels. Remnants of the horde remain in Roman border regions, and notable efforts to attempt a settling outside of Rome have been observed, however overall horde strength no longer a serious threat to imperial security. Dux Paullus remains in his garrison on the border. Suffers from post-war melancholy at the loss of three legions under his command during the warfare. Has several times applied for retirement.
Monies gained from the looting of greece have long since dried up, mostly going to military efforts. Greek population and infrastructure unlikely to recover for decades. Western Roman influence is held with an iron fist: however rebellion remains unlikely: there are too few left to oppose the new order. Constantinople, like Rome in years past, was stripped of much of its art, monuments, and wealth, which were sent to northern Italy. Little of the old city remains intact.
On the Eastern Roman Remnant:
The death of Theodosius and the loss of all greek assets effectively beheaded the East’s efforts to form a military response to Gratian. Moreover, new Sassanid military adventures have pushed the remaining eastern romans to enter long defensive wars with the persians, with no victory in sight. These territories refuse re-absorption into the western empire out of fear of persecution and hatred of the west. Currently composed of a close knit federation of family members of the house of theodosius, who survived the fall of Greece.
On the Army:
Germans have been forced out of senior officer and legion positions, being used instead as exclusive limitanae forces or foederati auxiliaries. *Achieved with some difficulty: caused a near immediate rebellion barely brought to heel*
Much of the modern army is composed of soldiers from Italy and Gaul, drawn from the urban poor and promised a modest living after service (an incentive that has become appealing for those packed into desperate, filthy, overcrowded cities).
Cavalry plays its role only in the form of cataphracts, an eastern innovation adopted by the reformed military of Gratian: they are now effectively heavy lancers, with fewer cavalrymen present in war, but with wide reaching tactical potential to crush battle lines. Some have taken to calling them ‘knights’.
Heavy infantry gradually begins to make a return to the legions thanks to better funding and a period of (relative) peace.
The germanies are uniting under a strange new confederation of tribes, headed by the saxons. Saxon forces have grown to impressive levels and wage bloody war against unprepared roman limitanae. The legacy of the Alemanni has imparted these new germans with a sense of caution, seeking to gradually absorb territories.
Also worthy of note are the franks, who exist between the saxons and romans, in the north, near the Belgae. Frankish reemergence is threatened by the larger saxon empire, and a slowly reacting increase in roman military presence on the german border.
The age of the barbarian invasions are now over. Empires once again have come into the fold, and as the last large empire standing, Gratian’s Rome, exists in an odd place, as social decline is contrasted by improving military and political might.
Should the Saxons be brought to heel, Rome may look to recovering her long lost territories in Britain, Africa, or seek to unify the empire in the East.
Regardless, it must act swiftly or risk allowing its social decay to culminate in true internal revolts and civil wars.
Gaius stared at an empty wine-sack, silently bemoaning the last of his poison.
Gratian lorded over a map, or a roman approximation of a map, looking at Germania.
“The franks have been haunting us these years, haven’t they?” he said, a small grin showing the beginings of lines of age on his skin.
“While you were sitting around a camp fire within spitting distance of Italy, sir, I was fighting Franks. I took Sedes Francorum, after all. They aren’t so invincible.”
“Was that you?” Gratian burst into laughter. “I had forgotten! Were just a bunch of bloody war heroes aren’t we, Marcus?”
The caesar of western rome took a bow.
“You honour me Caesar. I never won that battle in the alps, or how about your siege of constantinople? Brilliant stuff.”
Gratian nodded, his eyes lighting up with the memory of that day.
“Seal the exits and set fire to the palace. I dont give a damn how important it is, We’ll build a bigger one over the corpse of this city. But while you do that, FIND ME THEODOSIUS!” Gratian thundered, shouting to what few officers were still on hand.
What impeccable luck. Constantinople left with but a mere few thousand green recruits and a single cohort of palatinae? The emperor of western rome just couldn’t say no. He had considered sparing constantinople, it did after all have terrible walls, but this?
Well now, this was far too easy.
Gaius ran up the steps of the massive building Gratian had been assaulting, clearly out of breath.
“Emperor! The city is on fire, can we not demand a surrender and try to spare this place? It’s important!”
“Let it all burn, I dont care about the hovels of greek traitors. The title “Roman” is reserved for better peoples. Now get your scholae dismounted and follow me, my candidati have died in the assault- useless wretches. You will have to do.”
With a gesture, the emperor began running up the steps at a quick pace.
“We got him sir!” cried a soldier, hauling a man in golds and purples out to face Gratian.
The curr began to snivel and grovel, spouting nonsense.
“Listen to me!” Gratian shouted, gripping the ‘emperor’s’ neck and bringing him close.
“You attacked me! You started the civil war. This is all your fault. YOURS! You are a damn fool, how could you not forsee this?”
Gratian remembered the look in the man’s eyes.
“No, emperor theodosius. No, this is my empire now.”
Behind him, Gratian was faintly aware of gaius yelling.
Drawing a silver Spatha, Gratian stared down his rival emperor, the man who controlled ‘the better half’ of the empire.
“You see, old curr, not all the money or the prestige or the power in the world could save you in the end, because…”
Gratian’s blade positioned itself to stab through his nemesis’ throat.
“I AM ROME!”
The caesar of rome turned his head, showing off some of the fat accumulated since the past wars.
“Its time to mobilize. You say these Franks and Saxons threaten gaul? That you have defeated them? Well then. Allow me to prove you right.”
Gratian opened his arms wide, as if embracing some silent invisible body or crowd.
“Germania will be mine! All of it will be mine! Not for Romes glory, but beyond Roman Glory! To the ends of the world we shall be one nation, one god, and one emperor over all! Slaves to me! Emperor gratian: Saviour of Rome!”
Marcus applauded. He had gotten good at playing audience.
“I’ll get the magister militum and peditum here tomorrow, my lord. From there we can see about issuing a formal draft of soldiers. I need to know but one thing: who will lead the host?”
Gratian whipped around, his eyes wide and intense.
“ME you fool! Away with you, I need to draw up battle plans. Ive spent too much time sitting on my bony ass in Rome. Its time to kill again.”
Marcus scurried out of the room. Old words echoed through his head.
“You’re the most roman man I’ve ever met.”
Gaius stared at an empty wine-sack, silently bemoaning the last of his poison.
He sat on a poor wooden stool, spartan in appearance and comfort, outside of his roman home.
Inside, his wife was nursing his son.
In a stupor, he stood up, and began shuffling to a closed off area of the (relatively) wealthy three-story home he was more or less given by ‘higher authorities’.
Pushing an old door aside, he saw something glimmer on the light.
A suit of polished iron-and-steel armor, shining light silver, with gold string and a red under-tunic.
Gaius stood there, looking at the display. At what it meant to him.
A flash, for a momment, a memory from an earlier age flittered into his mind.
“Why are you doing this?”
“You’ve gone mad! Your tearing the empire apart!”
He could feel heat. Hear screams.
“Stop this now, look to your own borders! We did nothing to deserve this!”
The distance to the armor seemed to stretch. Each side was lined with scholae. His scholae.
A new voice. A fearsome voice.
“No. This is my empire now.”
The slow flash of a steel blade.
“NO! STOP THIS, SCHOLAE, SEIZE HIM!” Gaius screamed, staring at the suit of armor. A suit which had transformed into the back of a man kneeling before a fallen body.
Gratian flicked his head over, and smiled. The scholae held Gaius. He could only watch.
“I am Rome.”
The steel flashed, and the memory ended.
How long had it been?
How long since victory bells rang in the streets?
How long since Theodosius was murdered by Gratian?
Time has a way of burning itself into you.
Time has a way of running out.
Gaius wondered if the walls of constantinople were finished being repaired.
He knew the civilian quarters surely wouldn’t have been.
And so again, like so many days before, he found himself laying drunk before his old armor, wondering where it all went so very wrong.