Caligula

6

Failure was the greatest humiliation for one who bears the namesake of his forefathers. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; to Rome, he was known as Emperor Caligula. His father’s blood ran through his veins. With the death of his adoptive grandfather, destiny saw fit to place him at the center of Rome.

To come so far, only to fall so hard. The decadent life he relished in, the power he held, the imperium he ruled… all of it was robbed. A plot on his life was succeeded by his guards, the senate, even the Herculean Vanguard who swore service to Rome. The familiar chill of death became a constant reminder when he found himself stuck within the icy depths that made him pray for the underworld to take him. But it took him a few centuries to realize he was frozen in some land called Antarctica.

Death would had been preferable than an eternity inside a block of ice. His only contact with the outside world was through Vocem Astral, his guardian that resided in his bracelet he pillaged from a plebeian. Perhaps the only thing that kept him sane. Minerva's gifts always proved to be quite invaluable. But more so the bracelet and its astral guardian, whom he used to peer through the material plane, spying upon others who hold similar artifacts of great power. It never even occurred to him exactly why such an artifact was made to keep track of others. But now it was his, and it was the only thing he had left to connect him to the outside world.

He could hear the thoughts of others, communicate to them through Vocem's ability. There was so much potential with this power that, the more he experimented with it, the more he can exert his own will upon others. All he had to do was find the right person with the right mind and they would fall right onto his lap. He could command, control. The only blessing he had out of this wretched curse he called immortal life.

Unearthed from his burial, given the breath of life once more, a robed man stood before his cold, bloodless and naked body. Caligula was weak, confused, and he struggled to balance himself. He looked upon his form, felt his body, and found that the wound he once had upon his assassination had healed. But when he touched his forehead, he felt a mark. He looked to the man and asked why. His answer haunted him, taunted him, and remained embedded into his memory for so long as he lived.

For someone who bore the title of Augustus, to lose everything and more, the notion that he was nothing more than a walking talking caricature of who he once was were like the most jagged daggers slicing through flesh. A man pretending to be a false god, who will never come close to having even a fraction of the power he desired. A man who lived a life of vanity and egotism. His sadistic and cruel tendencies and his pride had brought shame to his ancestors and incurred the wrath of the pagan gods upon him. For even if he were to return to Rome without the gods interference, Rome would never accept him. And he expected the next four hundred years’ worth of history to past, with a new body of power headed by a new system of belief, will always supersede him.

This curse was a mark for his sin, and it granted him a miserable immortal life. He said that many who carried similar curses were continuously punished for it by… other properties. But for Caligula? He was already being punished. There was no punishment greater than being a pretender, betrayed by his people for inflicting such cruelties on them. For one who follows the lines of Augustus, he lost his empire.

His words broke him. There was not an ounce of fury left in him to strike out at the man. It only made him fall upon the marble stone floor and cry. His very existence, his very life now was his punishment. But the hatred he had for the man will never leave him.

For years he had lived in the shadows, always on the run, always hiding. The gods could be anywhere. Being one of very few who were aware of their existence, he was a target for their wrath. Should they find him, there was no telling what would happen. Perhaps they would tie him to a rock, his guts pecked out by a giant bird, just as the Titan, Prometheus, faced.

There was nothing for him to do. He had nothing except his skills. What could he use them for? What would he do? How would he use them? He was no military general anymore and he had no devoted followers. Without a job, without a purpose, without nothing, the Roman suffered from starvation constantly. Along with dehydration, lack of sleep, and so many incidents involving him being on the receiving end of a blade.

Then one day, he snapped. The last attack would be his attacker’s last. He remembered the fear in his eyes as the once former Roman emperor screamed in a blood thirsty rage how he was the emperor of Rome, how he demanded the respect he desired, the obedience of parasites like him. It was so cathartic to take the would-be-mugger’s own knife and slaughter him with it. He had no idea how long he had been stabbing him. But he remembered by the time the sun had dawned over the horizon, the terrified screams of a local plebeian cried out in fright.

Caligula knelt down over the mutilated corpse. Knowing for sure that he would be found out and captured by the guard, he looted from the dead plebeian’s corpse as quickly as he could before he'd make his escape. A most particular piece of jewelry however, caught his eye as it fell from the dead man's wrist. It was a strange, golden bracelet, encrusted with gems, shaped and sculpted in such a fine craftsmanship that it would only befit a god to wear it! He could scarcely imagine how much aureus this piece would sell for.

He ran, and he ran, and he ran until he was as far away from the settlement he could get. For days he ran, until the first break of winter. He had nowhere else to go. He was weak, tired, feeble. There was no shelter to house one such as him. No mound of dirt who would soften for his presence. No man who’d offer their lodging for a fellow Roman such as he. For one who looked like nothing more than a madman, Caligula felt the deathly breath of winter a more welcoming feeling. Just like the glacier, which served as his new home.

Caligula could not be set to stay with the maiden of snow and ice, however. Along the path, there laid a lone farmstead, sitting beside a lake in the middle of the night. Illuminated by candlelight, the house was alive and vibrant by the presence of a man, a woman, and their two daughters. Wretched plebeians of course. As he would expect.

The warm hot meal of a slaughtered bull seeped from the windows of the stone and straw house. The comfort of light and life bringing joy and exuberance in this cold winter evening. Surely the gods were good to them.

As Caligula loomed toward the house, the mocking smiles and sniveling laughter of the seemingly happy little family echoed throughout his ear. A life he could never have and would never know. For he saw it as nothing more than a façade to continue its course, punishing him as the curse would. But that night would come to a long and satisfying end with a new tenant occupying the shelter in their place.

Caligula cleaned his hands after filling the last mound with dirt. After he had his meal, a bath and rest, he spent the rest of the day inspecting the bracelet he had on him. Such radiant craftsmanship befitting to that of a true Roman aristocrat. To have it fall to an undeserving common plebeian disgusted him to no end. As a Roman emperor, he saw fine jewelry and attire to be the significance of a Roman’s true worth. All that would come again, he thought to himself, when discovered that his bracelet carried a powerful entity. A creature that took a form of a man, but embodied in mist. Whatever the creature was, it called itself Vocem Astral. On that day, Caligula knew what true power was like. Such a fine artifact it was. True, a gift from the gods, but now he held that gift. Why such a plebeian would wield such a fascinating divine object, was beyond Caligula’s comprehension. But there was one thing he knew; he could use this gift. He could not die; thus, this artifact would be his for an eternity.

The things the creature told him, the presence of other artifacts of powers that would allow him to achieve feats through them. To sense the presence of others like Vocem Astral. Or rather, he could sense the vassals that hold them. It dawned on him that this power brought him a new purpose: retribution. These artifacts of power would be his to command and control.

Fate had other plans for Caligula, however. In the wake of Nero’s madness, he put Rome to the torch. Or was it an act of the gods who disfavored the Hellenic people? Either way, they were absent. Save for one, and that one goddess who helped orchestrate his assassination in the first place.
Revenge was cold like the glacial pillar that bound his body to the frozen hellscape. Chaos rained upon the city as the emperor condemned everyone. For he knew not a sane thought left within him. It was the perfect opportunity for Caligula to reemerge from the shadows. With Minerva under his control, he could wield her divine strength to reshape the empire once more, overthrowing that fat fucker and crucifying him.

That moment never came, however. For once there was fire, was now ice. He, and the entire district, had shifted across the material plane. A deathly intense and sudden chill struck his body. His eyes opened. All he could see was silence and ice. The years passed by, with Caligula slowly losing every bit of his humanity to the sheer absence of any human contact. Madness nearly took him.

Everlasting silence beneath a thick layer of ice and stone. Layers upon layers of cities were stacked from columns to rows. Yet he was trapped and alone in his eternal prison. Save for one companion, and Vocem Astral proved to be a valuable companion indeed. The creature’s eyes were his eyes, his ears were his own, as was his tongue. As the world continued to evolve, so too did Caligula’s power with Vocem Astral. His sight extended beyond the artifacts of power. He could see the wielders. Beyond that, he could see other people.

Like flickering embers in a black void like sea, the lights shined in the distance. It is there, but there was no warmth. Alone, they were pitiful. But the little embers, stacked together, would be a beautiful bonfire. He just had to pick out the right embers. The weakest of sparks will always be more suggestible to fuel. Even those who have the strongest of wills would cave beneath the pressure of old scars and imposed expectations. For over a millennium, Caligula plucked the artifacts of powers from their previous users. In a long and bloody game of acquisition, it was only a matter of time before he was free.

Then came that moment where the icy heavens broke apart, with scores of men in suits and armor descending down to the massive, buried city. That time was about to come. For long had he watched the actions of the enigmatic organization. For long had he waited for this golden opportunity to present itself. To think it was once in a blue moon happening that they would discover this place, rather than having to lead them.

All those years prepping and priming his cells’ mental fortitude, shaping them for when they would eventually get picked out, had played out well in the end even if not by what he had expected. It was too bad the doctor wielding the ring wasn’t a part of the expedition team. After his failed attempts with that sniper, he had to wait for another opportune moment to kill him and take the ring.

Freedom was sweeter than any object of power, however. It would not be long when he’s freed will he acquire them all. The caches were safe, and new cells will always come running and beckoning to his call. Even the disciplined can be tempted.

Just then, a voice resonated from the group; “Hey over here! I found something!”

The sound of freedom echoing throughout the icy cavern.

“Didn’t we come across this structure before?” said another voice.

“No. But look at the crevices there, and the seams in the stonework. Remember when Dr. Silar said how half the temple is missing?”

Oh, how he forgotten about the temple. How he had forgotten of Minerva. Where was she?

“Could it be related to the entity they picked up too?”

“Very likely. Might as well report it in. We should have a look around first.”

Caligula could see once again. It was different this time. It wasn’t through Vocem. It was through his own eyes. When was the last time he was able to see?
Yet when he looked, the image of the world was chaotic, crystalline-like, and enraptured in winter’s chilled embrace. He peered through the icy sheets that held him, gazing along the discolored figures that were closing in.

“Do you see that?’ a figure wrapped in a white coat spoke, pointed at him. At last, he was found. He was accompanied by the presence of four other escorts. Two of them however, were oh so very familiar.

“I think there’s someone, or something, in there.”

“Whatever it is, it’s probably dead.”

Oh no… very much alive.

“Poor fucker must have been caught in the flash from whatever it was back then.”

“And without more information from the entity, we won’t know for sure exactly how this district ended up in this city the way it did.”
A hand reached over. It was the man in the white coat. The heat resonating from his concealed gloves felt so intoxicating. He needed that warmth again.

“Right. I’ll radio in Director Hines now. Mark this section with a beacon and we’ll bring the excavation equipment in.”

The two dark figures closed in on his prison. He could hear the whispers in their heads. He could feel their presence. Two members of the so-called Protection Division.
Little Rodney; a prodigal son favored by the eyes of the mother and father, a spawn of betrayal by the eyes of his sisters and cousins who suffered the whip of their father’s belt and fist. The screams and cries of his kin brought only a miserable sense of relief and satisfaction. Never knew true conflict or hardships in his entire life. Abandoning his children and harboring only contempt. With the life of his mother struggling to persevere, guilt only plagued him, as he wished to abandon the one who favored him so, for he remembered the day they argued, and he left, leaving her to a stroke. His mere existence is proof that Cain was in the right to kill his brother Abel. Favoritism breeds contempt. Contempt breeds pride. What can he do to be proud of himself again?

And Anthony; a miserable pile of secrets whose life is a lie that was built upon lies. A defected mind spawn from another, and married to another, sharing each other their misery and ugly. How miraculous they made three children. And three children have they ruined their lives. A life of misery. A life of abuse. How he thrust his teenage son’s head against the wall. Swearing sexual degradations to his daughter, driving her afar from home, who now lives the life of a whore. His youngest son, living in fear still to this day of his wrath. The man’s mind warped in unsatisfaction, driving those who care for him away, defending his inner beast and the beast he lived with, and punishing those he lusted for his own self-hatred in his deviancy. How can one do their entire life over?

Caligula knew how. He could show them a new path to walk. They have an image to uphold to themselves, right? Vocem Astral can show them. And show them it did.

“The beacon has been placed doc.”

“Good. Let’s regroup back at camp, we’ll let the other teams know about this place. Rodney, get the team on the comms and tell em what we got.”
There was silence now. The two male figures didn’t move from their spot. They were transfixed on Caligula’s form.

“Rodney? Anthony?” the doctor spoke again.

The cycle of fratricide. The murder of one’s own brother is considered to be a grievous offense that has become ingrained into the Roman bureaucracy’s culture. Starting with Romulus murdering his brother after the founding of Rome. A cycle that didn’t stop at the bond shared by the blood between Romans. But by their spirit and connection. A cycle that accumulated to that fateful day, one that spelled the end of the Republic; the murder of Caesar by members of the senate. Including that of Brutus, his closest companion who was like family.

The cycle didn’t end when the age of Rome fell. It persisted. As the two operatives turned to face the doctor and his escort, they raised their weapon to aim.

“Rodney, Anthony?! What the fuck are you do-”

Before the escort had chance to pull out their own guns, before the doctor could finish his sentence, the roar of gunfire drowned out the silence of the world. The three figures dropped, barely having a moment to react. The traitors turned back to Caligula and knelt before him. The power of suggestion was a beautiful weapon. It was the one thing that kept him entertained for so many years. It would free him of this icy prison. It would bring him back into power. For the first time in a long time, the muscles in Caligula came to life. He smiled, bearing through the pain of having to force his muscles through the block of solid ice to smile. He was free.

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