Emperor Tatius led the victorious Tattooed Legions down the cobblestone street, surrounded by joyous celebration. Many people waved palm branches above their heads signifying victory while others scattered the branches upon the Emperor’s path to welcome, at long last, the arrival of peace. After seven years of war, those who had dared to attack the empire were finally conquered and subjugated. Flower petals danced in the breeze as they rained down from the tops of tall buildings, and the citizens of Avitus chanted loudly as one, “Tatius! Tatius! Tatius!”
When the Emperor raised an arm in greeting, he caught a glimpse of his scarred palm, and he thought back to the formation of the Tattooed Legion. He recalled drawing the dagger across the palm of his hand as the sorcerer Sergius had instructed. The blade was sharp and cut deep. Blood poured from the wound and mixed with the ink while the sorcerer uttered incantations and stirred the cauldron. Smoke hung heavy in the air filling the valley and engulfing the soldiers as Sergius worked his magic. Tatius soon noticed as he breathed the smoky air that his breath streamed from his mouth and mixed with the blood red ink.
The artists had worked for three days and nights tattooing the shaved head of every soldier. When the work was finished, the Emperor was elated by the savage and fierce appearance of his armies. The tattoos were placed with precision and wrought with intricate detail. The soldiers took great pride in their new unity, and they followed their Emperor to battle in high spirits.
The advantage gained by the magic was unmistakable on the battlefield, and the Emperor often found himself smiling as he watched his armies battle. Sergius warned the Emperor not to allow his emotions to burn too intensely during battles or he risked losing control of the soldiers. The Emperor watched the battles from nearby ridges, high hills, and tall towers built by his soldiers. As he studied the battles, his armies moved at his will. When he saw a weakness in their defenses, the soldiers sensed his desire and acted accordingly. He soon discovered that the stronger he felt the need and the harder he pushed his will the more intensely his soldiers fought. The more he invested himself emotionally in the battle, the fiercer and quicker the Tattooed Legions reacted. Army after army fell bloodied and devastated to the will of the Emperor, and Sergius’ warning was soon forgotten.
As they approached the palace gates, the Emperor lowered his hand, and blinked several times as his mind returned to the present. He glimpsed an object that arced through the air unlike the fluttering flower petals. As he turned his head, a single half-rotten red fruit struck the edge of his chariot and splattered against his armor a moment before his chariot passed through the gates.
Inside the palace, he wiped off his armor in frustration, wondering who dared such public contempt. Anger raged inside him as he grasped the side of the chariot with white knuckles until he managed to master his emotions. He released a long slow breath, shook his head, and allowed servants to wipe the splattered fruit from his armor. He waved them away as they finished and marched off to sleep in his own bed for the first time in years.
Late that night, the Emperor tossed and turned on his bed fighting ghastly dreams. Instead of being greeted by the cheering masses and falling flower petals, the citizens of Avitus pelted him with scraps of food and named him a murderer. The Tattooed Legions sensed his will and moved into action. They fell upon the riotous crowd with swords and spears, executing the Emperor’s will upon the ungrateful masses.
Tatius halted his chariot, raised a fist, and shouted, “How dare you assault your Emperor! After all I have done to protect you! You dare disrespect me!”
Blood ran in the streets and buildings burned as he allowed his emotions to consume him, driving the execution of his chastisement to ever greater heights. Once he felt the citizens had been adequately punished, he attempted to calm his emotions and subdue the Tattooed Legions. The slaughter continued unabated. Chills ran down his back as he remembered the sorcerer’s warning. His blood ran cold as he tried again to regain control of the army and failed. The soldiers continued to grow in their blood lust. He saw the elderly, women and even children put to the sword and building after building began to burn until the entire city was ablaze.
He drove his chariot as fast as the horses could run and charged through the palace gates. The Tattooed Legion attacked the palace guards as they struggled to close the gates. Fear overwhelmed him as he ran for his personal chamber, and his desperation drove him to run faster.
The hall seemed longer than he remembered, and he risked a quick glance behind himself. The tattooed soldiers had fought their way past the palace guards, and they were running in his direction. Anyone in their path died, and he knew without doubt that they were coming for him. He dove into his bed as soldiers grabbed at his feet. Suddenly, he was falling; long seconds passed until his back hit the floor and breath left his lungs. He opened his eyes — alert, awake, and frightened on the floor.
A blade bit deep into his belly, followed by a quick second, and a third in his chest. He locked eyes with one of the soldiers standing over him, and he saw fear and panic in the man’s eyes. As the Emperor tasted his own blood, his eyes lost focus, the soldiers ceased their fear-driven rampage, and Emperor Tatius surrendered his will to death.
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. Find more on his blog: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/.