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Deathbound XXXVI - The Ringtown Rumble
You can also start reading from my website here.
Also, don't worry, I figured out how to use anchor links, so you can keep reading here and if you want to continue, there is an appropriate link at the bottom now.
Nergal – The Living Lich King – Dimensional Plane of Arenal – Inside an elevator of an office tower on Mars Avenue, Ringtown – 5 Years and 70 days since the Infernal invasion of Earth
Of all the things he had missed, Nergal had thought it quite poetic that it was the sound of his heart beating and the feeling of his limbs being warm again, as blood flowed through his veins and once more gave him the sensation of touch. He couldn’t resist and once again slowly caressed his own cheek with his left hand as he stroked the elevator’s mirror in front of him with his right, tracing his rosy olive-coloured face.
“Such advancements! So much steel and clear, lightweight and durable glass everywhere!” Gilgamesh said as he too touched the steel and plastic parts of the elevator.
“And such clear mirrors too, no more using bronze, I suppose. It’s unbelievable that so much happened in slightly less than 2000 years.” Merlin added.
“Why did they call you Ur-Nergal? Something happen to you while we were frozen? My Sumerian isn’t that great, but doesn’t that mean something like, second or reborn?” Achilles asked.
“Ah, a lot happened.” Nergal replied as he started to inspect little veins on the whites of his eyes. “But let’s just say that I am very, very glad to be very much myself again! Haha!” Nergal laughed out in joy, still in disbelief as he stuck out his tongue and looked at it.
The elevator dinged, signaling their arrival to the top floor of the 50-story building. This was the second building they tried, with the first one’s elevators having been shut down. Achilles, Gilgamesh and Beowulf were the only ones who didn’t know how to fly, so rather than trying to teach their non-awakened minds this difficult spell and leaving them weak and slow, Nergal had opted to go for an elevator to the top floor and get to their target that way instead. A group of firefighters and civil engineers who were stuck on the building’s roof that was now two buildings over. A large squadron of aerial devils and a newly arriving land-based army was quickly pushing towards the city’s center, with this group of mortal humans directly in its path.
Almost forgetting, Nergal put his helmet back on as he stepped out of the elevator, leading Beowulf, Achilles, Gilgamesh, Merlin, and Zhuge Liang out. Briefly he wondered where to go when his HUD displayed a large bright orange arrow, pointing in a direction to go past a large glass table that had plenty of seats around it and sumptuously large paintings on the wall, and instead go through multiple doors that led to a kind of hidden staircase that went up to the roof.
“Really handy this helmet.” Nergal said as he tried to remember how to operate it again, to try and get an overview of the battle.
“++You’re welcome. Nergal++” Vee said in a sarcastic tone.
“Oh, ah, thank you.” Nergal replied. “Hah! This is wonderful. I have my life back, get some help with all this wonderful technology, I can rescue Souya later on, and as a special treat, I get to kill an indiscriminate number of devils without repercussions.”
Nergal walked up the stairs when he realized he wasn’t really hearing any steps behind him. As he looked back he could see all five of his old friends just stare at him in shock. “Oh. Uh. A lot has happened in 2 millennia, as you can imagine.”
“Enough that I could physically feel that raw bloodlust you just emitted?” Zhuge Liang asked as he slowly climbed up a few steps. “What happened to prompt this change?”
“Well, to keep it short and simple. I got cursed and had to adopt a new lifestyle. One that involved a lot of killing in order to grow my power properly in order to not get extinguished. And then I got used to it and, uh, took a liking to it as it was one of the few of life’s pleasures that I could actually feel. Due to the curse, you know.” Nergal replied. “You have to understand. Where before I could easily maintain my kingdom with all of your help, it all drastically changed after you were frozen, I had to take drastic measures to survive on my own. Only Akwesasne, Dan MuYuan and I came out of the tower alive and unfrozen. Akwesasne and Dan MuYuan both had changed drastically as well, and I was left to survive, completely on my own.”
Achilles and Beowulf exchanged an awkward glance towards each other as Gilgamesh chuckled and continued climbing the stairs behind Zhuge Liang. Nergal shrugged as he pushed open the door to the roof and stepped outside, the constant roar of the battlefield above them, of jet engines, and all sorts of massive drones shooting bullets, lasers, and missiles at groups of devils, killing hundreds at a time, whilst thousands more came through the massive kilometer wide portal that dominated the sky above Ringtown. Nergal took in the sight, as the setting sun’s rays cast its beautiful red and orange rays on a city at war.
Nergal looked at his HUD once more and tried to fiddle with its options again, trying to find a tactical map, preferably on in 3D. After another minute or so of it not really working, he shrugged. “++Ah, Vee, can you help me out a bit? I’m trying to find out what the best place would be to open up a portal.++”
“++One of those massive ones?++” Vee asked somewhat rethorically as his helmet immediately updated to show mission objectives in the upper right corner: ‘Secure vital ground infrastructure – denoted by green’, as well as a top down map that slowly rotated and spiraled out to become an overlay on top of what he was seeing. As Nergal quickly looked up, he saw that every devil now had a blue dot on it, some even imperceptibly small, with the massive portal outlined in blues, whichever hue was best suited to being recognized during the sunset.
Nergal looked around him and saw in light green their target, the group of firefighters and engineers who were huddled around each other in a circle, probably trying to not get unlucky and have a living devil fly down towards them. They hadn’t seen them yet. Nergal scanned around some more, and could see a massive devil in the distance, getting struck by lightning repeatedly. He outstretched his arms and let his senses go out, sensing Sam fighting it. He also felt the presence of at least half a million living devils on the battlefield, both above and below, with the land-based army growing rapidly around Sam’s area.
“Mmmh.” Nergal pondered out loud for a moment and stopped himself from opening a portal there.
“++Not going to help Sam?++” Vee asked.
“ I only feel the presence of one massive devil. Asmodeus isn’t a fool. If he is indeed outright assaulting humanity, then only one such large slug of a devil is only a sign that there are more around and are hiding their presence.”
Merlin joined Nergal and pointed a finger towards the massive obese looking devil as it crashed into a large apartment flat. “The head of our new pantheon is fighting that!?”
The constant cracks of lightning in the distance echoed through the bombardments from above as flashes from explosions and thunderbolts were rapidly becoming the main light source, aside from the dying light of the sun. “Alright, Vee, can you tell U.N. Command that I am ready to open up portals as we rescue our assigned group of mortals?”
“++Yeah, they are busy revising plans. They are taking your capabilities into account, just give it a second, kind of hectic here.++” Vee replied.
“Alright, I’ll wait a bit. In the meantime.” Nergal said as he cracked his fingers a bit and flourished them to taste the wind flowing through them. He spread them out and savoured the moment as he snapped his fingers and created a large 40-meter-wide portal, connected directly to his own necropolis. The clacking of undead skeletal warriors was faint at first, then rapidly increased as dozens, and then hundreds of them started to swarm out and climb on top of each other, creating an unsightly and bulging pile of grey and dusty bones.
“By the Gods!” Merlin shouted as others gasped in shock and fear.
“Is this the enemy!?” Achilles ran forward, his spear at the ready as he raised his bronze shield and magical barrier.
“What? No, no, this is my army.” Nergal said as he sort-of looked at the writhing pile of screeching and cackling skeletons and shrugged his shoulders. “Though I understood how you can come to that misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstanding!? This is necromancy!” Zhuge Liang said as he pointed a reprimanding finger at the ever growing pile of skeletons.
“Well, yes. Like I said, I had to adopt a few different methods in order to survive.” Nergal said as the pile grew larger and higher, looking quite unstable as the wind rocked the top end back and forth, until it finally fell over, towards the building in between them and their target. The skeletons on the end however, readied their swords as they were held by their feet from other skeletons in the pile, and simultaneously struck just behind the little outcropping on top of the ledge of the building. Immediately more skeletons ran directly from the portal and the pile towards the other end of the bridge and clung to each other in order to reinforce it. Nergal looked at the others and raised an eyebrow. “You should cross now before I send in the next group of skeletons to make the second bridge.”
“Well, whatever works.” Achilles said as he and Gilgamesh rushed over the bridge towards the next building, with Beowulf quickly behind them.
“I’d rather fly.” Zhuge Liang said. “The wind makes it look unstable.”
“Oh, you don’t have to lie. Just because I made myself a master of the necromantic arts, doesn’t mean I don’t understand your hesitancy and disgust towards it.” Nergal said with a smile as he slowly began to walk over the bridge. Ignoring the others’ stares, Nergal instead enjoyed the sights and sounds of everything around him. Of the pulsing throng of battle all around him, but not of swordsman against mage, of trebuchets and archers, but of humanity’s accomplishments in this field. Of laser batteries and fighter drones, of spaceships shooting nukes. Of space marines and railguns. The constant roar of battle filled his newly regenerated ears with an ever-increasing feeling of joy. He chuckled as he realized that this was somehow peace in the making as the Primordials put it. Though, he hadn’t really discounted that, he rather chuckled at how it made perfect sense. Making peace, through fighting your wars in a very specific manner. Even now, Nergal had his own contract and the penalties of breaking the terms within, in the back of his mind.
“Oh, I have missed this.” Nergal said just as his helmet pinged with an update. Nergal’s smile disappeared as his mission of incapacitating any land-based devil army was removed, while evacuating citizens remained.
“++OOOoooh, this is bad news for you.++” Vee said.
“What?” Nergal asked as his helmet pinged again and a lot of new information flooded in.
“++HB is coming. You need to hurry up.++” Vee answered.
“I suddenly don’t miss this at all.” Nergal replied as he looked at the new update at the top left of his HUD and saw a new mission update, with a couple of newly prioritized sub missions in it.
The orders came with an audible command. “++Attention all units, this is U.N. Command. New incoming orders set at highest priority. Single God-level devil sighted, multiple suspected, including Asmodeus. Decision has been made to expedite the evacuation of all civilian and military personnel to city center or directly towards lock down positions on Earth, or deep bunkers failing that. All units have been updated with new area-related missions. Once evacuation is complete, high power units along with heavy cruisers EUSS De Gaulle, PRCSS Zhang Fei, USS Wyoming, UNDFS Marathra and UNDFS Akira, with their escort units will protect vital infrastructure necessary for rebuilding Ringtown. Once barriers are in place, we will initiate heavy bombardment.++”
Nergal groaned heavily as he read the missions on his HUD.
High priority: Heavy Bombardment incomingNergal then stood still out of pure shock as he read the last order. “I can’t believe I used to miss this. I was wrong, I completely hate this.”
Secure and evacuate 20 civilian targets
Open new portal to flood in undead masses, near large building you came from
Secure as much land as possible, focus on land, air no longer priority
Reinforce barriers alongside Valkyrie and protect infrastructure against HB“What’s the matter, Nergal?” Merlin asked as he landed next to him on the new building, quickly stepping aside as a new horde of skeletons swarmed forward, getting ready to make a new bridge to the building the original target was on. “Surely this battle looks to be going in our favour? True, there might be more devils with the strength of a God on the battlefield, but it looks like that fearsome woman is quite capable enough to defeat such threats.”
“It’s not the devils you should fear.” Nergal said as he was cursing himself out and missing the old battles of swords against mages and trebuchets against walled archers. “She’s not the strongest thing out here.”
“What do you mean?” Zhuge Liang asked as the skeletons began growing into a massive pile once more.
Nergal looked at top left of his HUD again, and saw those dreadful words ‘Heavy Bombardment’. “Well, the plan was to remove the land-based devils, and then we could save the city and nuke the air above it, completely obliterating all the flyers – “
“What? Is she that powerful?” Merlin asked.
“What’s a nuke spell?” Zhuge Liang asked curiously as he mouthed the strange and new word.
“ – Let me finish!” Nergal snapped. “Instead, the humans in charge have decided to take this all a bit more seriously. No doubt our lightning imbued leader has new orders to fight all the devil leaders and Archdukes out there. However, we are charged with evacuating more groups at an increased pace, and to summon as much of an army as we can. The battle is to be decided on land rather than air. Asmodeus is most likely using the city as cover against the spaceships and various drones, and cleverly flooding it with an insane number of portals.”
“Again, you are saying far too many things that I am not fully understanding.” Merlin replied as he curiously looked up.
Nergal had a hefty grimace on his face as he looked at Merlin. “Don’t worry. Everything will be explained if you survive what the mortals will do to us.”
“What do you mean, if?” Merlin replied.
“What do you mean, mortals are in charge?” Zhuge Liang asked.
“Shut up, evacuate them.” Nergal said as he began to fly up and raised the helmet’s visor, ignoring the large pile of skeletons finally falling down and making a bridge to their target. Dark smoke with wisps of green and teal whizzing about in the air began to drip off his skin as he channeled his inner magical power and condensed it into a large pool, while Achilles and Beowulf rushed over and started to usher the grateful humans over.
“Oy, thanks for the help!” One of the humans shouted at Nergal as he was concentrating and channeling his power to his hands.
Nergal ignored them and looked at the large blocky building made of marble and steel, nearby which was that scientific campus filled with researchers and that ring constructions, and above it was the space port, the large funnel-like construction that had elongated tube-like metal extensions that allowed all sorts of ships to dock. Some small ones were still there. This was probably too expensive to not protect.
“Isn’t he supposed to be the living mummy dude?”
“Yeah, he was on the news lately, on one of the viral videos.”
“Damn, he’s helping us? How come he doesn’t look like an undead dude?”
“I don’t know man, let’s just get the fuck out of here, and away from all these skeletons and devils.”
“Such disrespect from mere mortals towards a great and powerful Sumerian God!” Gilgamesh shouted as he exchanged stern glances with the humans who simply shrugged.
Nergal raised his arms and extended his fingers as he looked at where he wanted to place his portals. He slashed down with his hands, scratching through the sky as came down, summoning two massive kilometer high vertical portals directly next to the space port, facing outward and angled slightly up. Nergal pushed his own essence forward through the portal and commanded his army to come forth and slay every devil they came across and protect every human they were near enough to help.
“Your power has grown to be this great, Nergal?” Achilles asked in awe of what he saw.
“Oh, shit!” One of the humans shouted a few seconds later as they all started to point towards the portals, as hundreds of undead creatures came out with terminal velocity, flying out in a parabolic arc out of the portal, as hundreds more came flying out regularly from the top.
“Now that’s thinking in portals.”
“Man, we have to evacuate, no time for jokes.”
“Uh, yeah. Uh, mister undead dude, are you going to escort us?”
Nergal snapped his head back, startling them as the magical effects were still readable on his face, as green and teal streaks of energy were crackling on his skin and the black smoke was pouring out of his eyes. Realizing what they were seeing Nergal put down his visor and was once more looking at the tactical map overlay. “No… Keep going over the next bridge and take the next elevator down. My skeletons will evacuate you. Hurry, no devils have arrived yet, but they will in the next 4 minutes from what I can tell from what is displayed on my helmet here.
“You’re reading it wrong.” Vee said as her voice came out of the helmet’s broadcast speakers. “You should evacuate along the west cardinal line towards Central Station. Do not take Earth avenue and avoid Mars avenue if you can. There will be live marines escorting you once you are past Dahomey tower.”
“Ah, that makes more sense, thanks lady.” One of the civil engineers said. “Alright everyone, let’s get a good jog going, sooner we’re there, sooner we are rid of these creepy ass skeletons!”
“Uh, what about us?” Achilles asked as he raised his spear and pointed towards the various battles above and further around them. “Do we charge into the fray? Are we to fight in the front lines now?”
“No.” Nergal said as he looked around and identified the remaining 19 civilian targets he had to rescue. Most were near high rise buildings. One group was particularly far off and in danger of being attacked, they had to be rescued first. He raised a hand, cast a small spell, and closed it into a fist as he yanked it forward. “We have to rescue more civilians. 19 More groups and then we fight. And then you’ll learn to fear these mortals.”
All of his old friends looked at him like he was mad. Nergal raised an eyebrow. “What? Necromancy is believable, but mortals being stronger than us, isn’t?”
“How are they stronger than that!?” Gilgamesh shouted as he pointed his axe towards the Valkyrie, who was flying in the distance at tremendous speeds, as she darted around the massive devil like a fly, shooting it with lightning bolts while dodging its slow and heavy blows.
Nergal pointed upwards. “You see those machines shooting those succubi and incubi without any effort? See! Over there, how that one machine got destroyed and it took about a few hundred devils to corner it properly and bombard it with fireballs?” Nergal said as a fighter drone exploded 150 meters away from them, the light obvious in the growing night. “That’s the humans’ most common flyer, like an imp, or a halfling glider.”
“Really?” Merlin asked as he looked around, joined by the others in sheer disbelief. “But I don’t see anything else. I mean, granted, this amount of steel and such an amazingly large city is truly impressive, but where is the actual army, aside from you, these machines, or the head of our pantheon?”
Nergal smirked as he landed. “They’re in the void, waiting until we are done. Come, let’s hurry, that I may dispel your naivete.”
“In the void? What?” Beowulf muttered out loud.
“Uh, hurry to where?” Zhuge Liang asked as Nergal turned around.
“Look for yourself. Ours are the yellow targets.” Nergal said as he took off his helmet and levitated it to Zhuge Liang who hesitantly took it, put it on, and looked around, his body language one of pure astonishment, going back and forth in every direction like a puppy driven to follow every shiny light.
“Wait, how do we get there? Achilles, Beowulf and Gilgamesh can’t fly.” Zhuge Liang said as he slowly took the helmet off again and handed it over to Merlin who was practically salivating at getting to put the helmet on.
Nergal smirked again as he felt his transportation arrive. A loud and deep screech came, rumbling through his body. Nergal savoured the feeling of the skeletal dragon arriving as its roar reverberated against his bones, something he realized he had never actually felt before. It had always been the emotions of others he had read and felt, but never his own. It was awesome and powerful, and the feeling he got from the others was mesmerizing as the massive 100-meter-tall skeletal dragon with a similar wingspan flew down and stopped just above the skyscraper they were standing on. Nergal felt his own awe mimicking that of his companions, but it was so much stronger and delicious as he felt it come from himself.
“By Zeus!” Achilles shouted as they all took a moment to overcome the shock and braced themselves against the backdraft coming from the massive skeletal and smoke-filled wings, flapping every so often as the dragon slowly came closer, unable to land on the much smaller tower.
As the dragon hovered above the ground, it lowered its head down as the tail accidentally slashed through the buildings behind him, finally stopping when the top of its snout became level with the tower’s ledge. “Let’s go, I want to get this over with, fast.” Nergal said as he walked towards the dragon and then continued on top of its massive head.
G.O.D. Sam Robinson – The Valkyrie – Dimensional plane of Arenal – Approximately 4 kilometers Northwest
”Are you sure you don’t want to be bigger?” Mirror Sam asked.
“Yeah!” Sam answered as she flew up in an arc, over the top of a building, and continued in her path, accelerating towards the obese devil. She wound up her fist and found that she could now easily focus her lightning powers into it. In this fight alone she must’ve done it a couple of dozen times already, and it now felt natural. The way her eyes somehow adjusted as the blinding light flashed, and the surrounding sound got muted also felt more automatic and natural, as though her senses were working in conjunction with her helmet and smart plug.
As Sam reappeared, she could see a dozen or so of flying imps or some other kind of devil in the way, but Sam accelerated through them, caring little for the weak resistance they gave. The big devil was lashing out in various ways as he got increasingly angrier whenever he wasn’t able to trace and target Sam. Which was almost all the time due to Sam being regular human sized. As Sam approached, she could see that his entire body was in the process of smashing his fat tail around, while his belly was on fire to deter Sam from attacking his weak points.
Sam took a slight dive down, then barrel rolled halfway through and continued curving, sending her path up towards the devil’s face, allowing her to smash right into its chin. The lightning released with a heavy boom that Sam didn’t hear but still felt within her body. The heavy devil staggered as blackened and charred pieces of its fat fell away. Sam wound up her fists and started punching more, with plenty of power in each blow, until the wound opened up and blood gushed out.
Slowly, as the devil started to fall back, Sam readied a heavy blast of lightning and aimed her right fist at the wound like it was a railgun. She pulled the trigger again, and while the lightning was far too fast to witness, she did see the blinding flash and heard the deep sonic wave of the thunder crash through her body and further outward, affecting the regular devils around her, continuously discombobulating them.
As the flash dissipated and her visor normalized again, Sam could see the devil’s head twitch, then fall down onto the asphalt, and begin to rapidly sink as its massive body left a deep crater behind.
”He’s dead. Wonderful job. Perhaps this daemon isn’t so bad after all – hey, stop touching that!” Ebruziel shouted.
”What? Nooo, lemme touch it. I wanna see what it does!” Mirror Sam shouted back.
”That will enter you into the consumption spell’s stance, raising your bloodlust! But you don’t want to absorb that guy, I’m sure it’ll make Sam want to be all fat and lazy and an ineffective warrior.”
“Is that how it works? I mean, I noticed you get some of the memories, but nothing more than that. I never felt anything coming from the kobolds either, just their prayers.” Sam replied as she shot a few more lightning bolts around at the devils who hadn’t fled yet, scattering them instantly.
”If you get enough of something’s memories, without enough of your own to anchor yourself to, then you’ll drown in them! He was an Archduke, and lived alongside Asmodeus’ side for roughly 40 centuries!”
”Are you sure? I don’t think so.” Mirror Sam said.
“Okay, this conversation is going nowhere. Besides, I have better things to do.” Sam said as she pulled up her tactical map and looked at the new orders that she had requested. The city was more heavily under siege now that there were hundreds of verified portals opening up all the way from the suburbs to about 3 kilometers away from the Central Station. The area encompassed roughly 60% of the city, with two major areas clear of devils and portals. Central station and the surrounding area, and the alien enclave about 10 kilometers to the southeast.
The Nigerian contingent had to retreat due to an overwhelming surge of devils in the area they were advancing into, but the Indian army did reach and secure it. An area that Sam was ordered to reinforce, as all civilians in her immediate area had already been rescued. An area that was on the opposite site of where she was right now. “Well, crap.”
Sam quickly surveyed around her, but saw that every single unit was unavailable, all busy with quickly retrieving and rescuing the civilian personnel. “Well, how am I supposed to get there?” Sam asked as she began to drift down and land amidst the numerous charred corpses and shattered road.
Sam turned around and saw about a dozen drones advance forward past her, shields and machineguns up and scanning every corner around them. Behind them a group of German marines ran towards her, wordlessly nodded and advanced, while one of them came up to her. “Hey, thanks for that! That was amazing, great job Valkyrie!”
“Yeah, no problem. Have you seen my squad? Bunch of old-looking magical humans that – “
“Yep. They’re behind that tower over there.” The marine said as he pointed to a half-collapsed tower, its once impressive façade now pockmarked with craters from railgun impacts and shards of debris. “They looked like they were pretty much out of their league against the big guy and are resting from holding off some regular-sized devils.”
“Gotcha, thanks. Good hunting.” Sam said as she sprinted towards the tower, getting there in a few seconds. While still fast, it was no longer as jarring, as Sam felt slightly more used to the increase of her powers.
There she found Airmed and Zhang Fei sitting on the stairs, puffing and catching their breath as dead devils lay around them, blood still trickling down. Aeneas, Shango and Hercules were standing on the stairs as they were all fully covered in blood.
“How did you all get blood on you. Don’t you have barriers?” Sam asked as all five of them went into a defensive stance, not yet realizing it was her.
“Och, by Lugh, it’s our great mistress!” Airmed shouted as she was the first to adjust to Sam’s speedy arrival. “That was ahmazin! How’d ye get so powerful!? Oi thought it was only a few centuries that we got frozen.”
“No, no. Look at all this steel! And this is a human city, on Arenal!? It must’ve been ten thousand years at minimum!” Hercules said.
“Ah, I noticed some Latin words, or words that sounded like them. I have a question, uh, great mistress, if you’ll let me. And of course, if you’ll forgive my earlier impudence. Ah, has Rome rebounded? Last I saw, there was a civil war after the death of the fifth emperor named Nero. Has Rome found itself again and united humanity?”
“Nero?” Sam asked as she scratched her head. Then realized what she was doing, took off the helmet, and scratched the itchy spot on her scalp. “Uh, Vee. How long has it been since Nero?”
“Nero died in July of 68 CE, so it’s been roughly 2087 years since then.” Vee answered.
“So, we got frozen a bit less than 2 millennia ago.” Aeneas said as he thought a bit. “Was it Rome then? To build all this? Did humanity advance so spectacularly in such a short span of time, because of our unity?”
“Man, this is the same conversation we had with Ur-Nergal a couple of weeks ago.” Sam responded. “Just, go with the flow. I don’t have time to explain every single little thing, alright?”
“Ur-Nergal? You mean Nergal?” Hercules asked.
“Uh, no, the lich king. The undead guy. Though, now that I think of it, his curse has been lifted. So, maybe?” Sam said as she started to question herself.
“What?” Zhang Fei said as he slowly got back to his feet again.
“Never fucking mind, we have a job to do.” Sam said as she shook the thought from her head. “Alright, can any of you old guys open up a portal? Or quickly teach me how to do it? We need to get to the other side of the city to reinforce the Arenal quarters and evacuate the civilians there. Then we can proceed with the next part of the plan.”
“Wait…” Aeneas asked. “Old guys? How old are you?”
Sam tilted her head and gave a stern stare towards Aeneas. “I’m 28 and if you have a problem with that I will literally slap your head off your spine.”
“Twenty eight!?” Aeneas shouted and then quickly adjusted himself. “Uh, I mean. What a wonderful age. So young and full of life…”
“Och, yer just a wee babe!?” Airmed asked with a shout, completely missing the tension between Aeneas and Sam. “But how!? How’d ye get so strong?”
Sam sighed and felt herself subconsciously start to pinch the bridge of her nose, trying to focus. “Nevermind all that! Portals! Can any one of you help me open one?”
As all five of the magical humans started to shake their heads no, Sam heard a voice from within. ”I can.” Ebruziel said. ”But I’ll only do it if that daemon stays on her side of the Anchor Point!”
“Uh – “
”And I finally want my own body! And part of this Anchor Point’s power! It’s originally mine to begin with, since you killed me and all that, I think it’s nothing but fair!”
”I am pretty sure I can just kick him out or kill him.” Mirror Sam said.
“No, no, that’s sounds overly aggressive and needlessly cruel.” Sam replied as the others were looking at her like she was talking to a ghost.
”And completely unjust! That’s what humans care about right!? And it’s what the great ancient Primordials have told us is the wrong path! Peace, let me peacefully leave!” Ebruziel protested. ”Besides, didn’t I save you from certain death, when I regenerated you as your charred guts spilled out of you!?”
“Yeah, yeah, alright, shut up. I’m pretty sure you tried to kill me first – “
“I did no such thing, I-I was just trying to – “ Aeneas protested.
“Not you, idiot. Fuck. Ebruziel just do it, alright?” Sam said as she flipped Aeneas off and continued to talk to herself.
”Oh, no. I know you humans! I want a contract first!” Ebruziel demanded.
“And how the fuck are you going to sign it? You don’t even have a body to begin with.” Sam replied as she crossed her arms and began to tap her feet out of impatience.
”How about, uh, well, I don’t know everything! You humans are supposed to be so damned clever, why can’t you think of something!?”
“What!? How am I supposed to figure this out?!” Sam shouted and got ready to start cursing Ebruziel out when she heard her mirror.
”Wait, what about this!?” She said as Sam immediately felt something weird bubble up from within, on her left side.
“By the Gods!” Zhang Fei shouted as he was the first to notice the smoke coming from Sam’s head. Before she knew it the magical humans all took a heavy step back up the stairs, as Sam suddenly lost sight, hearing and even feeling in her left side.
“This feels weird. Wait, why am I seeing the outside so clearly?” Ebruziel said with a heavy bass as Sam’s own throat began to vibrate along, her lips going up and down involuntarily.
“Wait, what the fuck!” Sam shouted and quickly grabbed the helmet and turned it around, allowing Sam to see in the reflection of the visor that half her face and body had turned into a weird red hybrid version of a devil, with horns, flames, and black eyes with red pupils. “Mirror Sam, turn me back right now!”
”Wait, wait, you can sign the contract now.”
“We didn’t even draft one yet!” Both Sam and Ebruziel shouted simultaneously as she could feel her body fighting for control as her muscles moved in a slight spasmic motion.
“Wooh, this is weird.” Vee said out loud. “How about a quick video pre-contract with intention to sign? And I’ll just list the main contents of the contract first.”
“++Significant portions of the city are being overrun or have been successfully evacuated. HB will initiate in the northeastern suburbs now.++” U.N. Command said on an all hands, high priority channel as Sam could see the helmet light up from the inside as the left and Ebruziel shaped half of her took on a shocked face.
“They’re bombing now!? Quick do the contract thingy, robot best friend!” Ebruziel shouted as Sam’s half of the mouth twitched along.
“Ah, stop that!” Sam shouted as the first dull flashes of light from the first dark parts of the night pulsed above the horizon.
“This has been a very strange awakening.” Hercules said as he and the others kept staring at Sam.
“This future is very difficult to understand. Ah – what’s that?” Aeneas asked as he noticed the bombardments beginning.
“Barriers up! Vee, let’s get going, we have to hurry this up and get the Arenal quarters evacuated!” Sam shouted.
“Woah.” Airmed said as the first streak of light hit the horizon.
“By the heavens!” Zhang Fei shouted as a massive explosion briefly made the entire horizon look like it was in the middle of the day, a bright flash brightening all the surrounding air, dispelling the sunset, before completely disintegrating the rest.”
“Aah! My eyes!” Shango shouted as he clutched them and got down.
“I said, barriers up!” Sam shouted as she knew full well that she was in the northwestern part of the city and they weren’t far off from the impact zone. “And avert your eyes!” Just as the shockwave soundlessly came towards them at shocking speeds, crashing through the streets and blasting apart all the debris and dead devil bodies, and shattering the last windows, cars, and streetlights that hadn’t been destroyed yet, as though the street was like a carpet being lifted up and smacked back down.
Sam rode the wave with ease as she watched others fall or stumble, scrambling to get back up again. “Get up, barriers up rookies!” Sam shouted. “Vee, do it!”
“Alright, this is an audio-visual recording of an intention to – “ Vee said as another heavy boom interrupted her. “ – to sign a contract between the U.N. represented here by – “
Another heavy shot echoed through the streets as light began to pulse more and more. “The titans have returned!” Aeneas shouted in a panic. “Jupiter, great father – “
A trio of heavy booms came and shocked them off their feet. “ – the Valkyrie, and the devil entity known as Ebruziel who is currently possessing Valkyrie’s Anchor point to – “
Boom. Boom. “Argh, hurry this up!” Ebruziel shouted.
“It’s the end times!” Shango shouted as he crouched on the ground, holding his barrier up with all his might, clutching his axe to his chest like it was a dear child.
“ – have Ebruziel teach the Valkyrie how to open portals in some capacity, and in return – “
Boom. Boom. Boom.
“The world is ending!” Airmed shouted as the latest shockwave pushed her off her feet and she stumbled into Hercules’ crouched position.
“ – the U.N. will provide a new body for Ebruziel and upon successful separation of the possessed Anchor Point, will receive a small yet significant portion of its powers, where this is a possibility to do so by current U.N. technological capabilities. Hey, it stopped.” Vee said through Sam’s helmet as no more dreaded shockwaves came.
“Wait, how small is small?” Ebruziel said. “I’ve watched you for five years, you humans are not going to screw me over like this!”
“5 to 10 percent.” Sam instantly replied.
“Take it or I’ll fly there now, right mirror Sam?”
Sam suppressed her own spine shivering at the mere suggestion of going closer to the bombardment zone, while she felt Ebruziel’s half shaking at the mere thought of it. “Alright. Alright! Fine, I’ll take it. How do I sign!?”
“Will you sign as long as the contents of the contract does not significantly detract from what was just discussed?” Vee asked.
“Yes. Anything else I have to say or do?” Ebruziel asked.
“Valkyrie, will you – “
“Yes, let’s get this over with!” Sam answered immediately.
”Okay, back into the box you go!” Mirror Sam gleefully said as Sam felt a strange cold sensation run through her left half of the body, like a strange cold glass or plastic had just slid past her skin in every place. Sam looked at her helmet again and saw that her face was back to normal again.
“By the Gods! Is it over!?” Airmed shouted as she was healing her ears.
”Alright, do it, devil man.”
”Well, give me control over her hands, I have to cast a spell I also need some power, can’t just do it without a magical crystal in my hands.”
”Oh, okay.” Mirror Sam replied as Sam suddenly no longer felt her own hands. Without any control over it, she put her helmet on, in the wrong fashion.
“Damnit Ebruziel, I can’t see! Hurry this shit up!” Sam shouted as she could see a counter going down from the corner of her eye, slowly reaching zero.
Continue from here.
Also, I figured out how to link to a specific element! Yay! Let me know if it doesn't work somehow, but also, thanks to the two redditors who gave me good hints on how to do that. Still took me half an hour of google-fu though, haha.
The Ten Caesars - Evaluating Rome's Emperors
For fun and to remember the key takeaways, I’m going to briefly describe and evaluate each Caesar based on Strauss’s descriptions. I’ll start with the first five for now and get to the second five later.
My rankings are based on "the effectiveness of the emperor's administration at strengthening the Roman Empire." I admit this is loose and not at all scientific.
1. Augustus (27BC-14AD)
Personality – cerebral, visionary, planner, strategic, lustful
Modern Day Equivalent – Elon Musk
Greatest Achievement – Establishing the Roman Empire and ushering in the Pax Romana, 100ish years of internal peace(-ish).
Worst Move - Exiled own daughter because she repeatedly cheated on her husband.
Caesar Augustus is in the league of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Julius Caesar. He’s one of those guys who simply operates on a different level than everyone else. It’s not just that he probably had a sky-high IQ, it’s that he made the right judgement calls in the right places and times with such consistency, that his success almost feels supernatural.
Augustus was Julius Caesar’s nephew, but was formally adopted as a son in the latter’s will. When Caesar was assassinated, Augustus suddenly stepped into public life and become a major power broker at the age of 19. He proceeded to outsmart and outfight Mark Anthony (veteran warrior, beloved by the people, Caesar’s right-hand man) and the Roman Senate led by Cicero, to become the undisputed leading man in Rome by the age of 35.
He was not the first person to achieve this level of success. Sulla had wiped out his populares opposition and established himself as a dictator a few decades earlier, but he voluntarily retired, died a few years later, and all of his reforms were undone by the opposition shortly after. Julius Caesar had gone even higher to “Dictator for Life,” but of course, he was cut down by a jealous Senate. Recognizing the lessons from history, Augustus knew he had to take a different approach if he wanted to stabilize Rome and stay alive.
To understand what Augustus did, we need to take a step back and look at the Roman Senate.
The Roman Senate was never a legislative body. It was officially a body of advisors made up of nobles elected by Roman and eventually Italian citizens (with extremely heavy vote-weighting for wealth and noble status). The Senate would propose a policy, debate it, and then vote on it. If the vote passed, the Senate then advised the Magistrates, or executive officials, to enact the Senate’s will. Legally, the Magistrates were under no obligation to do so, but they nearly always did anyway because that was the tradition of Rome. The decades of civil wars that preceded Augustus’s rise to power essentially concerned the Senate’s inability to restrain rogue Magistrates. Sulla, then Julius Caesar, and then Augustus, were all Magistrates who overcame the power of the Senate and put themselves above their authority.
But Augustus knew this was an unstable position, so he created the title of “Princeps,” or “first man,” for himself as a replacement for “dictator” or “king.” His goal was to maintain a façade of Senatorial authority while consolidating real executive power in his hands. Officially he wasn’t the top executive, he was just the most respected noble among many. In reality, he filled much of the Senate with loyalists, bought off others with meaningless titles and honors, and appeased the opposition by showing up to Senate meetings and pretending to listen.
The system worked. Augustus was the undisputed supreme leader of Rome’s government in all but name. Some Senators thought they had real power, but they didn’t. Other Senators grumbled under their breath but stayed quiet. But most Senators genuinely welcomed Augustus and saw his “Princeps” position as a unifying force which could hold the great Roman state together.
Augustus proceeded to rule over Rome for 42 years, the longest of any Roman Emperor. He waged a series of successful wars abroad to expand the empire to its greatest height to date and spent lavishly on construction projects out-of-pocket to appease the Roman people. He could afford all of this because of his enormous war plunder racked up during the civil wars, which included holding the entire province of Egypt as personal property. Augustus also attempted to consciously shift Roman culture back towards traditionalism – he outlawed adultery between citizens, punished uncouth homosexuality, and presented his family as the model of Roman virtue. At the time, this was seen as a restoration of grace and dignity to the Roman elite.
Essentially, Augustus created the Roman Empire. The title and responsibilities of the emperor would shift over time, but the foundation was established by Augustus.
Augustus died peacefully in his bed surrounded by his step-son and successor, Tiberius. The Senate voted him to godhood status and held him up as the ideal Roman ruler ever after.
- Augustus was notoriously sickly, and there were serious concerns he would die during his early civil war days, but he somehow lived to 75.
- Augustus’s wife, Livia, was a key advisor and major power broker throughout his rule. She was sometimes considered something like an unofficial co-emperor.
- Augustus had one of the all-time-best right-hand-mans – Agrippa. Not only was Agrippa an excellent general who won all of Augustus’s wars (he was a mediocre general at best), but he stayed loyal throughout his entire life, and even married the emperor’s daughter. His children were in-line for the throne for a while but kept dying.
- Like his adoptive father, Augustus was a legendary womanizer. He is said to have torn through the Senate during his heyday.
- Though Augustus was benevolent for most of his reign, he executed over 100 Senators during his ascension to the throne.
- Augustus established the Praetorian Guard, a military unit to serve as the emperor’s bodyguard in Rome. It would soon become a powerful faction in Roman politics responsible for murdering and choosing numerous future emperors.
- Augustus might be a Targaryen because despite all his greatness, his progeny (Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) include some of Rome’s worst emperors.
My Rating - 10/10
2. Tiberius (14-37)
Personality – sullen, aloof, irritable, stern, organized, reclusive
Modern Day Equivalent – Tim Cook
Greatest Achievement – Consolidated Augustus’s vision for Rome
Worst Move – Letting his corrupt Praetorian Guard commander run Rome for years
Nobody wanted Tiberius to be Emperor, including Tiberius.
He was chosen as Augustus’s heir because the four guys Augustus chose before Tiberius all died unexpectedly. Tiberius himself was a prolific general who covered himself with glory through a series of Balkan campaigns. His military reputation was one of caution and respect for the lives of his soldiers. But by his 40s, Tiberius was world-weary. He stunned Rome and Augustus when in 6 BC, while the emperor was still flailing around for a viable heir, Tiberius retired from public life to live out his days on the island of Rhodes.
The precise reasons for the retirement are unknown, but there's speculation of depression and grief. Tiberius had been deeply in love with his first wife, but was forced to divorce her by Augustus so Tiberius could marry his daughter. They hated each other. He never got over his first wife, she openly cheated on him. Tiberius was not a happy dude.
Augustus was furious at Tiberius for leaving, but after a few more of his grandchildren died, the emperor was officially out of young male family members. Tiberius came back to Rome to fulfill his duty of being Augustus's successor and beg the emperor for forgiveness.
When Tiberius ascended to the throne, he got off to a good start by assuring the Senate that he respected their authority and even wanted to cede some of Augustus’s powers back to them. But this soon caused problems because most of the Senate didn’t want their powers back. They were content being rich guys with honorary titles rather than being burdened with responsibility. Thus began a 2-decade spat between Tiberius and the Senate as they both tried to defer ruling responsibilities to each other. Eventually Tiberius once again moved to an island (this time Capri), and delegated much of his power to Sejanus of the Praetorian Guard, whom Tiberius would eventually execute for trying to seize the throne himself.
Yet inbetween trying to avoid work, Tiberius did a lot of good for Rome. Not the flashy, memorable good of Augustus, but necessary, bureaucratic good. Basically, Tiberius strengthened Augustus’s system. He stopped all foreign conquests to shore up defenses, he codified many of the legal responsibilities of the Princeps and Senate, and cut down government expenditure to build up an enormous treasury surplus. Aside from tussling with the Senate, Rome enjoyed true peace under Tiberius. Strauss makes the comparison between Tiberius and Tim Cook – both were competent, organized, un-flashy successors to legendary visionaries who consolidated the achievements of their predecessors and probably don’t/won’t get the recognition they deserve.
But nobody liked Tiberius. He was said to be stone-faced in public and moody in private. He wasn’t enough of a glory hound for the army, charismatic enough for the masses, nor aristocratically-minded for the Senate. His conflict with the Senate eventually came to blows as Tiberius outlawed all criticism of the state and proceeded to execute dozens of Senators on minor charges.
Tiberius died of natural causes in Capri. The Senate chose not to vote him to godhood, and people in the streets of Rome chanted to throw his body in the Tiber river as they did with criminals. But he was cremated.
- There aren't many records of what Tiberius did during his repeatedly island exiles, but for the most part he seemed to just like being away from other people. He read lots of philosophy and went for long walks. Though during his older days on Capri, Tiberius was notorious for wandering around by himself and trying to seduce women and young men.
- Tiberius famously referred to the Senate as “men fit to be slaves.”
- Pliny the Elder called Tiberius, "the gloomiest of men."
- Jesus preached and was executed under Tiberius.
My Rating – 6/10
3. Nero (54-68)
Personality – loquacious, decadent, artistic, spoiled, jealous, vain
Modern Day Equivalent – Donald Trump
Greatest Achievement – Created the “bread and circuses” system
Worst Move – Murdering his mother
Strauss definitely has a soft spot for Nero. He is typically considered to be not only one of the worst Emperors of Rome, but one of the worst leaders of anybody anywhere. Strauss admits Nero’s faults, but casts a sympathetic light on a probably deranged individual. Nero was brought to power at the age of 16 by his mother, Agrippa, who orchestrated the murder of her husband, Emperor Claudius. His reign can be roughly broken into two parts:
For the first five years, Agrippa de facto ran the empire as a moderate. She reconciled her royal family with the Senate and stabilized rule after a rough decade under insane Caligula and weak Claudius. Nero stayed in the background and had a typical young Roman aristocrat life of hanging out at brothels with his bros and being tutored by famed stoic philosophers.
Out of resentment for her power, Nero ordered the assassination of his mother and took true power for the remaining nine years of his reign. His popularity with the Senate quickly plummeted and there was talk of assassination plots almost immediately, but Nero stayed afloat by garnering support from a countervailing faction – the mob.
Like Donald Trump, Nero undoubtedly had some sort of talent. It’s not entirely clear what that talent was, or what we should call it, but we know its effects. Nero was utterly beloved by the people of Rome. He embarked on a massive building campaign to beautify Rome, opened the grain stores to give free bread to all Romans, and launched endless gladiatorial games. More importantly, he covered all the handouts with a masterful propaganda campaign which situated himself as the ultimate “man of the people” while marginalizing the Senate. Even after Nero died, future emperors picked up his playbook and used it as a reliable way to keep the mob on their side against the Senate.
But of course, Nero was also tyrannical and a terrible administrator. He executed Senators left-and-right and bankrupted the state with his spending. Worse yet, he had a habit of executing successful generals out of jealousy. During his later days, he seemed to genuinely slide into some sort of mental illness. He also kicked his wife so hard that she lost her second child. All the while, Nero saw himself first-and-foremost as an artist instead of an emperor, and he spent much of his time practicing painting, sculpting, and singing rather than ruling. When he was informed that a Roman army in Gaul was rebelling against him, Nero proposed going to the army and singing so as to inspire peace with the beauty of his voice.
Eventually, the opposition to Nero was so widespread that the Senate put him on trial in absentia and sentenced him to death. Nero heard the news while in his palace and decided to commit suicide. While muttering "what an artist died with me" and trying to work up the nerve, he asked a servant to kill himself as an example. But then Nero heard horses approaching, so he grabbed a sword and did it himself.
- Nero ordered the Olympic Games to be held a year later than scheduled and to add singing events. In 67AD, Nero competed in the games and not only won every event he participated in, but he won a ten-horse chariot race despite falling off his chariot and leaving mid-match.
- Strauss insists that Nero did not actually burn Rome down. Though he did cynically capitalize on the great fire to build a massive palace where there was once residential housing. And he executed a bunch of Christians as scapegoats.
- Nero was believed to be the anti-Christ by some Christians because of his persecutions.
- After Nero's death, three people rose in rebellion against Rome, all of them claimed to be Nero.
My Rating – 3/10
4. Vespasian (69-79)
Personality – austere, tough, strategic, pragmatic, patriarchal, uncultured
Modern Day Equivalent – Mike Rowe?
Greatest Achievement – Restored (relatively) peaceful succession for the next 150 years
Worst Move – Killing lots of Jews
Reading this book has made me appreciate hereditary rule. I remember when I was young and learned about the founding of America, I thought Britain was so stupid for having a hereditary monarchy. The flaws were so obvious – what if the king’s son is evil? Or dumb? Or no one likes him? There must be better systems for finding capable rulers.
In a way, Rome had a better system for finding good rulers. There was so little in-built authority for the emperors that it took serious skill to reach the throne and then stay there without being assassinated by the Senate or army. The problem was that the mechanism by which these skilled rulers were found and elevated was bloody civil war. I guess feudal Europe decided that the risk of having shitty children was greater than the cost of having the most capable men in the country murder each other for power every 50 years.
For better or worse, Vespasian was a product of this system. He was the first outsider since Augustus to force his way onto the throne and keep it through administrative skill. After the death of Nero, there were no viable heirs in Augustus’s dynasty, so four generals declared themselves emperor. Galba, Otho, and Vitellius all briefly seized Rome, but Vespasian used his superior base of power in Judea – where he had long been fighting a Jewish rebellion – to take the throne for good.
Vespasian is also notable for being the first non-noble emperor. Caligula and Nero may have been lunatics, but they were lunatics descended from Augustus and the gods, and thus had the innate respect of the Senate and People of Rome. Vespasian wasn’t exactly a peasant, but he was born an Equestrian, which was the class rank below noble, which wasn’t allowed into the Senate but typically ran provincial administrations.
Fitting his pedigree, Vespasian was considered to be simple in both appearance and outlook. He certainly wasn’t dumb, but he wasn’t ideological or intellectual. He was said to distrust philosophers since their abstractions drifted too far from the concrete realities of life. His goal was to become emperor and start a dynasty, and he didn’t care about much beyond that. He had lived and breathed a soldier’s life since he became a man, fighting war after war on the Danube and in the East, where he attained a reputation amongst soldiers for being “one of them.” When Vespasian took the imperial throne, he brought order to the empire with military efficiency.
Like a good general, Vespasian was an excellent delegator. One of his lasting legacies was allowing talent from the provinces to come to Rome to take Senatorial and administrative posts. This tendency went as far as accepting oddballs and unsavory characters into his orbit. Some of the key players in Vespasian’s rise to power include prominent Jewish leaders who sided with him against the Judean rebellion, a prolific forger in Rome, and a Roman governor in the East who probably would have had a shot at the throne himself if he wasn’t extremely gay (or rather, if he wasn’t open about being the passive gay partner in sexual relationships).
Administratively, Vespasian’s focus was on rebuilding the Roman government after a year of brutal civil war. He became so obsessively focused on cutting government costs to regrow the Treasury that it became something of a joke in Rome. Vespasian literally taxed piss by putting a special tax on the service of retrieving piss from house latrines. Many Senators found this policy to be undignified, but Vespasian didn’t care. He figured that everyone pisses, so it’s a good way to raise money. At his public funeral, a group of actors even joked about Vespasian scolding the Senate for spending money on his funeral. The big exception to Vespasian’s financial policy was constructing the Flavian Amphitheater, which is better known today as the Colosseum.
Vespasian died of natural causes after ten years of rule at the age of 69, with the badass quote, “Dear me, I think I’m becoming a god.”
- Like Augustus, Vespasian had a key right-hand man – his son, Titus. Strauss describes Titus as a “golden boy” beloved by all for his military skill, courage, and good looks. Titus succeeded Vespasian but unexpectedly died after three years.
- Upon taking the throne, Vespasian promised not to kill any Senators during his reign, and followed through. He did, however, sentence a philosopher to death after repeated public insults.
- Vespasian was known to be extremely witty. Senators would often test his patience by criticizing him in the Senate, but Vespasian always fired back zingers.
- vespasiano (Italian) and vespasienne (French) both mean “urinal”
My Rating – 7/10
5. Trajan (98-117)
Personality – strong, courageous, boisterous, arrogant, charismatic
Modern Day Equivalent – Dwayne Johnson
Greatest Achievement – Bringing Rome to its greatest territorial extent
Worst Move – Wasting a lot of money
Trajan is generally considered to be the second greatest emperor behind Augustus, both during Roman times and in the modern day. But Strauss is more pessimistic about the man.
Vespasian was succeeded by Titus, who died early and was succeeded by his younger brother, Domitian. The Senate hated Domitian for declaring himself a god and avoiding Senate meetings, but the army loved him for dramatically increasing their pay. After 14 years, Domitian was assassinated by the Senate who put in one of their own, Nerva. Nerva was a pretty smart guy and knew the army was aiming to take him out the instant he got the throne, so he approached a few military leaders and made a deal – “let me, a 66-year-old, enjoy my brief reign, and I’ll appoint one of your own as my successor.” The army agreed, and 15 months later, Nerva died and his adopted son, Trajan, came to the throne.
Trajan was a total chad. He was one of those guys who everybody liked out of his sheer good nature. He was handsome, fun, and equally at ease amongst military veterans, aristocratic Senators, or cheering commoners. Whether by some natural charisma or strategic vision, Trajan was the perfect guy to take the throne when he did and stifle a fracture in Roman political life before it broke the country’s foundations. Trajan was also the first non-city-of-Rome-born emperor. He was from Iberia, probably as an ethnic mix of Italian and local blood, which gave him a cool, swarthy look.
Maybe it’s just that Strauss doesn’t like him, but Trajan comes off as a bit of an asshole. He was borderline anti-intellectual and ruled more on instinct than reason. Strauss even questions Trajan’s intelligence, and suggests that his accomplishments were based more on the strength of Rome than any personal qualities. Plus Trajan was a born self-promoter who took every opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Domitian got in trouble for declaring himself a living god, but Trajan did the same thing in a far more extreme way by explicitly depicted himself as a reincarnation of Hercules or Jupiter during public appearances. Yet he got away with it, probably due to some combination of his good-natured affability, and simply because he was considered competent, so the Senate let him have his fun.
Trajan was the Roman Empire’s first true Warrior-Emperor. Tiberius, Vespasian, and Titus were all skilled generals, but rarely led armies during their reigns, let alone engaged in personal combat. But Trajan acted in more the mold of an Alexander, and led Rome’s forces to victory-after-victory in Dacia, the Balkans, and Asia against Parthia. Trajan was said to be an excellent general, beloved by his troops, and personally brave to the point of nearly dying several times in battle.
Trajan was considered great because his reign coincided with the start of the very peak of Roman power. He brought Rome to its greatest territorial extent before or after, while at the same time, GDP per capita and population both hit their all-time-highs. From the army, to the Senate, to the people, there was a pervasive sense that Rome was truly the greatest civilization to ever exist, and the brave, awesome, holy Trajan was its leader. When Trajan wasn’t out fighting wars, he was arguably Rome’s single most prolific builder, and exalted the city to a new level of splendor.
Strauss’s pessimistic view of Trajan was that he was akin to the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, who nearly bankrupted the empire trying to retake Western Roman territory from barbarians. Trajan went for flashy-but-hollow gains at huge short and long term expense. Much of the territory he conquered was lost a decade after his death because it wasn’t defensible, and the marginal value of the territory they did hold on to wasn’t worth the cost in money or manpower. Trajan supposedly said that the government’s treasury was like a spleen, “it gets in the way when it swells.” So even though Rome enjoyed its apex of prosperity, money poured out into wars and buildings of highly variable value to the Roman people or state.
Trajan died unexpectedly, but peacefully, at the age of 63 in modern-day Gazipasa in southern Turkey, which was immediately renamed Trajanopolis in his honor. He was promptly deified by the Senate.
- Trajan is the second of the five “Good Emperors” that led Rome through its peak, starting with Nerva and ending with Marcus Aurelius.
- Trajan was the only Roman emperor to be given the honorific, “Optimus,” which means, “the best.”
- Like many Roman nobles, Trajan would be considered bisexual by modern standards, but he seemed to lean towards homosexuality
- Trajan may have been sexually intimate with his adoptive father, Emperor Nerva.
- Thomas Aquinas considered Trajan to be one of the rare “virtuous pagans.”
My Rating – 6/10