The fifteenth year of the reign of the Western Emperor Honorius
Darius surveyed the scene with satisfaction. He smiled as he watched the fires burning and the smoke rising
to the sky. He smiled as he heard the screams of the wounded and dying and smelled the stench of death
from his fallen foes. He smiled as he watched the fall of the city of Rome.
For the past three decades he had watched it all come to fruition. Two years after settling by the southern
banks of the Danube, the Visigoths had shown the Romans the folly of underestimating them. Valens, no doubt
cursing himself for a fool for ever allowing the wolves within his realm, had mobilized his army and marched
out against them.
He had lost.
Darius grinned as he remembered. He had fought at the Battle of Adrianople. He had ridden screaming
through the ranks of his enemies, turning his sword crimson with their blood. Ah, being in the thick of battle!
That was when he felt most alive!
Ever bit as satisfying was when he witnessed the success of his plans! He surveyed again the destruction
before him and laughed.
He sensed Grayson coming beside him.
"Rome has fallen, Darius!" Grayson said exuberantly. "It has all come to pass as you said!"
"What I say usually comes to pass, Grayson. I said that the Romans would not sneer at the Visigoth's forever.
They mocked us once. Look at them now!" He pointed to the slaves being herded along by his men.
"And even as we stand here, refugees are fleeing from the city of the Seven Hills."
"Where do you suppose they'll go?" Grayson asked.
"Perhaps some of them will flee back east! Ironic is it not? It was in the east that this began. It was Valens
who first allowed us into the remains of the once great Roman Empire. After we slaughtered him at Adrianople,
along with two thirds of his army, the Romans practically begged General Theodosius to come out of retirement
and become the new Emperor of the east."
"He was a worthy opponent, but he was never able to best us!" Grayson declared with a smile.
"True. He saw that he couldn't defeat us, so he made a treaty instead! He allowed us to settle in Roman territory,
and we in turn helped protect Roman lands!" Darius threw his head back and laughed. "Relying on one's former
enemies to protect one's precious empire! One did not have to have centuries of experience to foresee the outcome!"
"Still," Grayson sobered slightly, "he was a worthy emperor. He even managed to unite both East and West under
his rule and become emperor of the entire Roman Empire."
"For about four months!" Darius put in. "Before he died as all mortals do! That, Grayson, is the advantage that
we will always have over them; we are Immortal, they are not. We have infinite time, they don't. In a few decades
we will still be here, they will not. To us time is an ally, to them it is a deadly enemy. No matter how worthy
or dangerous a mortal might be, he will still always lose in the end!"
"And once he's gone, the ones who follow him are usually nowhere near his equals," Grayson put in.
"Exactly, my friend! Theodosius died and his sons—children—were placed on the thrones of the East and West!
And neither of them were any match for the Visigoths. Honorius soon found that out!"
Darius turned back looked back at the burning city. "It began in the east, but it culminated here in the west."
The year that Theodosius died, the chieftain Alaric had forged alliances with the Visigoth tribes that had settled
in the empire. When Honorius, who had only been ten years old when he became emperor of the West, had stopped
giving the Visigoths the 'payment' for their services, the conclusion was forgone.
For years Alaric's forces had raided Greece, Macedonia and Italia. Darius, a powerful warlord himself, had frequently
joined him in his campaigns.
Darius had done campaigning on his own as well. It was an ideal time to do so; the Romans had been so busy
fighting Alaric's forces that they had to leave the armies of their western provinces pathetically understaffed.
Darius had even heard that the Romans had withdrawn all of their legions from the island of Britannia.
He had gone on many raids and campaigns, sometimes alone, sometimes allied with other tribes. Just as he had
done four years ago when a huge force of Germanic tribes, under the leadership of the Vandals, had crossed
the Rhine into Gaul and on into Hispania.
They had been merciless. The Vandals had left so much devastation in their wake, that people were beginning
to associate the very name 'Vandal' with destruction. Darius smiled from the pleasant memories.
But through it all, his attention had never been far from Rome. His ally Alaric had already lain siege to Rome once
before two years ago, but had withdrawn after being bribed with tribute. Now at last the job was finished!
"Rome had fallen!" Darius laughed. "The smoke from the 'Eternal City' now rises to the heavens, and the bodies
of so many of its noble citizens are bait for the crows flying overhead!"
For three days Rome, had been burned and looted. Darius smiled as he watched the smoke spiraling upward
and listened to the screams of the captives.
"The Romans can consider themselves fortunate," Grayson said. "Alaric ordered that church buildings and temples
be spared, and much of the city has been left intact. It's not quite the end for Rome yet."
Darius turned to his student, his eyes intent and his grin broad. "Oh, but it is the end, Grayson! Rome, the Eternal City
that has stood for a thousand years, Rome that ruled the world for nearly four centuries, has fallen! This is the end!;
the end of an Empire, the end of an era! The Roman heart will shatter from this. It will never recover!"
He laughed uproariously. "Some of those so-called Christians might even see this as the end of the world!
Others will probably see it as the gods' way of punishing the Christians!" His laughter grew louder. I tell you,
Grayson…I love religion! It's both a useful tool and a source of entertainment!"
Darius looked again at his men. His men! His armies! His victory! He reveled in the sense of power and his entire
being burned with the desire for more. More battle! More conquest! More glory! More power! He lived for it.
And he would have it!
In the centuries since his First Death, he had honed his body to become a living weapon. But he had honed much
more than that. Many didn't realize that to be a true warrior, a true conqueror; one needed to hone more than
one's weapons and body; one had to hone one's mind to a razor's edge. One needed order, discipline, and
purpose-above all purpose.
One had to observe and anticipate and know the motivations and actions of both your subjects, supposed allies
and enemies. One had to know how to inspire and how to humiliate, how to lift up and how to cast down.
One had to know how to manipulate and pull strings, how to organize and, above all, to plan.
And he had plans. Oh yes, he had plans!
He turned back to his student. "Rome has fallen, Grayson. It doesn't matter if much of this city is left intact;
the heart and soul of the Empire has been cut out. Constantinople may thrive for a long time yet, but it will
never be Rome. The major obstacle is gone. And this is only the beginning!
"Oh, I have plans, Grayson! The Vandals have built their own kingdom in Hispania. Alaric and his armies intend
to establish a new homeland here in Italia. But I intend to have far more than that!"
Darius's eyes blazed with ambition. "I am going to build an empire! An empire born of this!"
He drew his blade and raised it to the heavens. "And it will never fall!"
With a laugh Darius surveyed again the burning city. It had fallen, as all the accomplishments of mortals did.
The kingdoms mortals built might last for centuries, but they always fell in the end.
But he was Immortal! He was a member of a superior race that was as far above these pathetic short lived mortals
as the sun was above an ember! He was a member of a race destined to rule! What he accomplished would not fall!
He was a warrior without peer. No one, mortal or Immortal could stand against him in combat. He was a leader
without equal. His men were utterly loyal to him and he knew that he could...would inspire the loyalty of others.
Even other Immortals. When Grayson had first proposed the idea, he had rejected it. But now…
Grayson would die for him gladly. He could unite others to his cause. Immortals had united before; he had heard
the legends of the Four Horsemen: four Immortals who had united into a Brotherhood and ridden for a thousand years.
He would form a new brotherhood of as many Immortals who would join him. And he would accomplish far more
than the Horsemen ever had! They had been powerful, but shortsighted; all they had seemed interested in doing
was burning, destroying and spreading terror. Those certainly had useful purposes, and were definitely pleasurable.
But he would do more than destroy. He would build!
If enough Immortals united, the world of mortals would be helpless. It would not be easy gaining the loyalty of other
Immortals, and he would no doubt have to kill many of them. But some would join him. Enough would join him.
Of that he was certain.
For all anyone knew, the Gathering might not be for thousands of years. That was thousands of years that his
kind could spend conquering and ruling. Yes, he would make other Immortals realize that. Enough would realize
that and join him.
And if in the end there could be only one, he would be that one!
Darius's wolf-like grin grew broader…sharper as he envisioned the future; a future in which he ruled! He would create
an empire that stretched from the Ural Mountains to the Sea and would shake the very foundations of the earth!
He would rule for a thousand years if not more!
And once he had claimed the Prize he would rule for eternity!