The Death of Praetor Darok
The sun was setting over the capital of Dartha. Outside the limits, Kassus' soldiers were easing into a night of encampment. The legionary cooks had prepared a special roast for them over the modest soup-like rations they had been receiving for what felt like an eternity. The animals were provided by nearby farmers who had no love of their current Praetor, nor of their greedy landlords of whom were close to the leadership. Above the encampments was Kassus' command tent where he, his second-in-command, and his closest soldiers, those who would form the foundation of his new Praetorian Guard, met to discuss the events that would be unfolding the next morning.
"...Acet, Tiram, and Xabar, the three of you will escort me to the city limits. Everyone else will utilize this sewer entrance and make their way to the center of the city using the tunnels..."
"What if we get caught?"
"You won't. Vabon has been keeping tabs on your intended route and there haven't been any City Guards down there in two weeks."
"But tomorrow is the beginning of the festival, they could mix it up."
He sighed, "if you do meet any resistance. Show them this," he said, handing the most senior of them his seal.
"If they dare to fight back, kill them." The soldier nodded. "Do not use your weapons unless you have to, is that understood?" he questioned. They all nodded in acknowledgement.
"The four of us," he continued, "will enter the city and go along the Via Chula. According to a senatorial friend, we will not be stopped by the contingent there. The City Guard and the small garison of Praetorians have already been paid off."
"As we proceed down the road, word of my arrival will spread across the city which will force the guards to leave their posts to contain the crowds. This should be more than sufficient to allow all of you to make your way to the sewers directly beneath the Hall of State. You will wait there until I give the order."
"Meanwhile, I will enter the Forum of Caliax and with the backing of the people, now at a frenzy, ascend the steps and enter the Hall of State. Darok has ordered a special session of the Senate to convene prior to the official opening of the Festival. Senators Chevet and Vellon will greet me. Vellon will hide me in a side conference room while Chevet will sneak down to let you all into the building here," he pointed to the schematics of the Hall. It was very odd that he managed to have this level of information on hand. In the name of taking power, he traded quite a few favors to the Phi'Tlaru Chairman. Koval was a dangerous man to deal with. Kassus had already made a mental note to 'replace' him in due time.
"Once I've been informed that you are all in your positions, Vellon wrap upon the doors of the chamber. The Praetorians on both sides of the door are on our side. The three of us," he motioned, "keep your hands close to your Vrelnecs." He paused for a moment. "There is no telling what will happen the moment we go into the Senate hall." They nod. "We will expose his henious crimes...and punish him accordingly."
He eyed his sharp Vrelnec and picked it up off the table. He ran his fingers along it for a moment and tested the point. "Very sharp," he said with a grim smile.
"We move out after sunrise tomorrow morning, dismissed." The group of twenty-five men broke up and returned to their positions throughout the rapidly constructed fort. He summoned Varak to give her the order of the day. "All soldiers are to strictly remain outside the city. No one is to leave the encampment."
"And if we are attacked from behind."
"We won't. Nevet made sure of it. He's led them on a useless excursion to the southwest. By the time they realize this, our business will be resolved."
"Understood sir," she said. "There is one more thing," he said as she began to walk out of the tent. "I keep my promises. Effective tomorrow afternoon, you are hereby in command of the Tenth Legion. You are one of my closest confidants and you've shown your valor, befit the honor of your family, and you are as cunning as the other colonels but there is no one better than you to lead this legion. Make me proud," he said. "For the Republic!" he saluted her. Xabar interrupted them.
"I apologize but Obisek wishes to speak with you," he said. "General, we'll talk in the morning," he turned back to his bodyguard, "let him in."
"...when we first met, you and I clearly did not see eye to eye. This was certainly due to the...prevailing circumstances, master and slave. A practice that we've largely shed off. Not because we felt sympathic, but because of the People. Most senators -- aristocrats, landowners, business leaders -- care little for the people, nor for you. But since you've been fighting for me, you've shown me that your people are far more...than just fodder. You have skill. Resolve. Bravery. Honor."
"Honor," he repeated. "You and your brethern have earned your freedom. All of your freedom. Upon my ascension to the Praetorship, the last vestiges of slavery will be abolished." Obisek merely listened. "However," he took a brief pause, "you will all be classified as protected people, not citizens," he could see his counterparts face change. "This is not because I don't think you absolutely deserve it, but it will be enough to pacify the resistance within the Senate. But do not mistake this definition -- you will have essentially all of the same rights, except for that of the vote...but," he paused again, "we'll see what happens. We are writing history one day at a time, and perhaps one day, that will change."
Obisek began to walk out, "one last thing. Once I am Praetor, we will solidfy the terms of your release." He emotionless nodded.
Kassus was alone now. He turned to his desk and upon it sat a file from an unknown individual. Its contents: Darok's crimes. His arrangements had been made. The time had come. It was time to put his plan into action.
The following morning, the sun was shining, not a hint of rain was in the sky. Residents have quickly spent the early hours of the day putting up decorations across the city. Hundreds were already preparing the Forum banquet feast at an open-air kitchen site not far from the plaza. The arena fighters and staff were setting up for the day's matches. Within the Praetorian Palace, Gathan Darok was putting on his robes of state. It would the last time he would ever do so.
Outside the capital, Kassus and his personal guards moved towards the vast city in front of them. Behind them was the Tenth Legion. They stoically waited to hear what would unfold within. The main group split off from their charge and made their way to a sewer entrance just south of one of the main access points. It was completely unguarded. Each man had their sword as well as a pistol. The three with the general had only their swords, out of respect for the city's customs. The group of four walked down the Via Chula for the last half mile until they reached the checkpoint.
Forty-five men stood before them. Silence. "I am Morror Kassus and I seek entry into the capital."
Their commanding officer, who had been paid two years' wages, decided to put on an act for a few minutes.
"No such man is permitted within the First and Greatest City," he responded. The soldiers lifted their arms and pointed them at the general and his men. Tensions at the checkpoint grew as civilians observed from behind. The commanding officer walked away and faked that he had been called to his phone. He nodded several times before returning.
"My humblist apologies," he said, "please you may enter." At once, the soldiers stood at ease. Two older men on a balcony saw Kassus and his three guards proceed inside and quickly rushed to share the news from rooftop to rooftop.
"KASSUS IS IN DARTHA!" "THE HONORABLE GENERAL IS HERE!" "MAKE WAY FOR THE HERO OF PENVAR!"
By now the old name for the Enolian capital had been completely stripped for the known language and the Rihanh name had taken root. He smiled and waved as they made their way towards the center. Crowds were building up along the Via Chula. As the crowds built up, the City Guard rushed to contain the situtation. Beneath the streets, Kassus' support had been unhindered.
The group of four were within sight of the Forum and at their back were tens of thousands of Darthans, being held back by the Guards. He stopped at the foot of the plaza. He first looked across: the Hall of State. Then to both sides: statues of former Praetors, and of great generals. And then above: he could see a Mogai Eagle fly above. A sign of good fortune. Finally, he looked at his three guards.
"We have an appointment to keep." They walked up the steps of the Hall of State, now surrounded by Praetorians -- all of whom had been paid off by Vellon. The heavy wooden doors opened in front of him. Just inside stood Senator Chevet and Vellon.
"Foremost," addressed Chevet. He wasn't even Praetor yet but he was being greeted in the honorific title of the office, "Senator Vellon would like a word with you," he said. His soon-to-be Proconsul led them into the waiting conference room. Chevet used the back staircase into the bowels of the building. Two of his personal guards were waiting for him. One of them knocked on a door. Silence. Two seconds later: two knocks: Kassus' men were here.
Chevet radioed up. "They're here." Vellon, holding the radio, nodded.
The doors of the conference room opened up once more and the group proceeded to the very doors of the Senate chamber. Kassus looked at both soldiers. They turned and pushed open the heavy doors. Inside, Darok was just concluding his remarks on the festival that was about to commence.
"...and in the honor of the Republic, we will prevail once more..." he didn't finish his statement.
"KASSUS! There was exaspiration amongst the assembled body. "Seize him!" he ordered. The Praetorians did not move. Morror slowly walked down the steps and into the well of the chamber.
"Ever the practiced military leader," he said sarcastically. "It is clear the soldiery, the generals, even your own guards do not comply. Quite weak for a man who boosts that he has such bravado."
Darok had been sitting in the Eagle Chair above the Continuing Committee's tables.
"I will not be lectured by a traitor to the Republic..."
"I am not a traitor. I have fought honorably for the Republic. I have served the Republic, for the People. You have done nothing but corrupt it and violate the very agreement we made with the People...I present to the Senate the following evidence..." He would take the next two minutes to run through the charges: murdering people, war profiterring, bribery, blackmail, and the use of slaves from abroad through an undisclosed business deal. "...is this leader of high moral standing. Of resolve. Of authority. I think not."
There were murmurs in the chamber amongst the Senate. "LIES!" "ALL LIES AND FABRICATION!" "I WILL FIND OUT WHO HANDED THESE FALSE DOCUMENTS TO YOU AND I'LL EXECUTE THEM AND THEN YOU, FOR FALSE PRETENSE AND INSULTING MY HONOR!"
Morror would have none of it. "If you are innocent, prove it in an honorable duel, right now, in this chamber." Senators looked on.
Gathan, who hadn't fought in decades, would not deny Morror. He nodded to a Praetorian to hand him a sword. Kassus' bodyguards moved away and each one stood in front of one of the stairways. Morror unshelved his sharpened Vrelnec. Proconsul Kota acknowledged each individual and restated what was at stake. "Fight." Seconds later, blades clanged.
Kassus was swift, while Darok was barely keeping up with the blows. Chevet, Vellon, and Morror's other supporters kept a close eye on him. The Praetor, the very embodiment of the country, was a meak, pompous, greedy man. Weak, weak, weak.
First blood was struck on Darok, a slash on the right leg, disoriented him. "I am the Praetor! How dare you!" It was clear that the power was going to his head, and his wallet.
He recovered and redoubled his attacking blows but none were finding their mark and then Darok made a massive mistake. He had moved his blade to his left side. Kassus took full advantage and speared him in the chest with the sharp point of his sword. The Praetor fell to the ground. "No. I will not let this end like this. Praetorians! Praetorians!" None of them reacted. He was bleeding out. Kassus pinned him with his foot and prodded him to get up. "Fight me!" He removed the pressure but Darok wouldn't get up. "I should have killed you the first moment I got the hint you wanted the Praetorship. I thought we could work together..."
Kassus responded simply with: "No, we couldn't." And then struck the final, merciful blow. Praetor Darok was dead.
Morror's supporters were satisifed. What needed to be done was in the best interest of the Republic and her People. Other senators had mixed emotions from emotionless to enraged to silent approval.
"The real traitor has paid for his crimes. The dishonorable leader is dead." Three Praetorians approached moments later and removed his body from the chamber. Two attendants quickly cleaned up the blood from the marble floor. There was total silence in the room as several bells rang out. A minor modicum of respect for a dead leader, even if he was a horrible individual. All deserved the proper rites.
Under regular circumstances, the Continuing Committee would convene to select the next Praetor, who would assume the position following the confirmation of the Senate body. Things would go differently this time.
Senator Vellon stood up. "I move that this Senate, in light of henious crimes of our former Praetor and due to the unsettling times we are in, appoint and confirm Morror Kassus to the position of Praetor of the Republic by acclimation." His supporters were clapping with approval. The remainder were quiet. Kassus spoke up.
"Who will approve the motion?" he asked. Then, Kassus' other bodyguards emerged from their hiding places through the Hall and made their presence known in the chamber, hands on their swords.
Then Senators Jatus Mavet, Milon Retam, Vicia Terob, and then Javos Turan stood up. The threat of his men and his own influence with the people had cemented his appointment.
"As my last official act as Proconsul, I hereby proclaim Morror Kassus, the Foremost and Honorable Praetor." Kota then relinquished his position and returned to the benches as a regular senator amongst his Jaridan brothers and sisters. The members of the Continuing Committee would subsequently resign and rejoin the main body.
A fresh crimson robe with a black sash was brought out by the chamber attendants. There was further silence in the chamber as he looked around the room and at the senators. He knew he had enemies in the room, others he needed to bring on his side, and others who he owed favors to. Kassus then turned around and eyed the empty Chair on the raised platform in front of him. He slowly walked towards it and touched the rich Shera wood it was made from. He looked above him -- the Eagle. And then stood in front of it.
He was Praetor. Full circle, and he was only getting started.