Edward Crichton

The Last Roman


Rome, Italy

September, 37 A.D.

The streets of Rome are not to be traversed carelessly by night, for all forms of vagabonds dwell within the shadowed corners and narrow alleyways that dominate the city during its nocturnal hours. It is there where many a pickpocket and thief lurk in anticipation, hoping for the simple chance that an aimless passerby would wander their way, and be it known that there were those who would do far worse. But such thoughts were far from the mind of young Marcus Varus, who could think of little else but how brazenly stupid the learned men of Rome actually were.

The thought dominated his mind as he approached the Palatine Hill and the great Temple of Lupercal located beneath. Now the home of the Caesars, legend told that this unassuming mound of earth was where the divine founders, Romulus and Remus, were raised by their adoptive she-wolf nearly eight hundred years ago. It was the place of Lupercalia, one of Rome’s most sacred rituals, and where Varus had come this night to defend with his life.

Where are they? This is where the manuscript said to go.

Varus, old at the age of twenty eight, was a scribe of the highest caliber. He was the personal documentarian, historian, linguist, and advisor to the Caesar himself, Caligula, but most importantly he was proud that Caligula also considered him a friend. As he entered the temple, however, Varus began to resent their friendship, as his most recent assignment to research a point of interest for the Caesar had led him to the precarious position he now found himself in.

Documents of a very strange origin had been discovered deep beneath the Palatine Hill, buried in a hidden chamber that was found during Caligula’s most recent renovation project of the Domus Augusti. They were wrapped around a perfectly round orb the size of a melon and were composed in a shaky hand, as though transcribed moments before death’s cold grip seized hold of the author. They were written in an antiquated dialect of Etruscan, a tribe that had resided North of Rome centuries ago.

When word of the discovery reached the Curia Julia, ambitious senators immediately sent word for both the object and the documents to be brought to the Senate building for inspection. But Varus had been overseeing the renovation project during the initial discovery, and was the first man to analyze the artifacts. In the short time he had with them, he’d held the sphere and attempted to translate the documents himself, but it wasn’t long before the Senate’s sycophants forced both from his possession.

Varus later learned that their linguists had transcribed a message that spoke of a treasure which the co- founder of Rome, Remus, had hidden away beneath the Palatine upon hearing of his brother’s treacherous plan to execute him. Riches were expected that far exceeded anything Rome currently held in its coffers, effectively guaranteeing its fiscal stability for centuries to come. The Senate dispatched its lackeys immediately to secure this treasure to help fund a private coup against the great leader of Rome, a plot Varus had suspected for months, but had only just confirmed.

But the Senate had been wrong.

Upon learning of this treachery from Varus, Caligula had sent him to reanalyze the documents and discover their true contents. What he found hidden in the nearly dead Etruscan language was a message that told of something far more powerful than a simple cache of lost treasure. Where the Senate had read of a treasure in the form of gold, silver, and gems, its reality was of something entirely different.

It hinted at Remus’ association with Druids from northern Germania, me who while currently simple priests, were once rumored to have possessed great power and mystical abilities. Although any magic they may have wielded in the past was long considered extinct and forgotten, the fact remained that those powers were feared by many. If they could indeed summon aid from realms unknown to Rome, the empire’s survival could be in question. Varus only hoped he was in time to stop the traitors from unleashing whatever untold evils the document spoke of.

Finally, with the short run from the Curia Julia completed, Varus entered the temple, bowing in reverence to the sacred tombs ensconced on either side of the small dome, the final resting places of both Romulus and Remus. Early each calendar year, all of Rome would gather outside the small temple to participate in the rituals of Lupercalia, an event meant to promote fertility for young men and women. He thought back to his teenage years, running around the walls of Rome, whipping young girls with bloody goat skins, full of energy and vigor with nothing in front of him but the future.

Varus felt sad that all that was left of those innocent days were distant memories, but forced himself to focus on his duty.

Creeping forward as quietly as he could, Varus found a small hole dug in the center of the magnificent structure. Grabbing hold of a rope, he slowly descended several meters into the dark abyss before making contact with the floor. He then followed a narrow tunnel before he emerged onto a slight ledge overlooking a vast chamber. It was large enough to contain the entire senate floor and Varus marveled at how it had remained undiscovered for so long.

Then he found who and what he was searching for.

Six men stood around two others facing a lone object at the far end of the chamber, their faces glistening in the dim flicker of their torches. It was too dark for Varus to identify any of them, but two were wearing their togas with a broad, purple stripe running along its border, likely identifying them as augurs, Rome’s priests and seers. Their skills at interpreting and analyzing omens made them crucial for directing the future, and decisions were never made unless these omens were read favorably. Varus had never put much stock in their mystical abilities, instead trusting hard work and determination to drive his own fate.

As Varus crept through the shadows, he noticed the rushed dig project had resulted in weak bracings holding back the tons of dirt above the freshly dug tunnel. His eyes panned the walls and ceiling, looking for any way to bring down the hill and crush his adversaries, when the two augurs approached the simply adorned and seemingly harmless altar at the back of the room. They were carrying the orb-like object that had been found with the documents which now exuded a dim greenish-blue glow.

Those below knew little about the object, except that it was adorned with illegible markings, but Varus knew better. His translation that associated Remus with the Druids convinced him that the object was the key to unlocking whatever evil secrets the document described.

Sorcery. Bah! If Druids could utilize such powerful magic, how is it that they no longer possess such power?

It was with this thought that Varus realized the Druids’ destruction perhaps had less to do with the overpowering might of the Roman war machine, and more with their own tampering in such dark realms.

By the time Varus found a cross beam he was certain would collapse the makeshift cavern, the object’s glow suddenly flared into a brilliant blue. His eyes turned towards the incandescent glow, and he found himself unable to turn away from the alluringly beautiful object for he had never before witnessed such a glorious sight.

How could something so beautiful be used for such evils?

As Varus stood there deep in thought, a magnificent blast emanated from the object that shone brighter than the sun itself, accompanied by a sound louder than the roar of a thousand legions’ battle cry. The force of the eruption was enough to knock Varus back against the wall and he knew he was too late.

When his vision cleared, he realized he was right. Emerging from the mist left over from the explosion were

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