The Emperor's Hand

An X-Men Evolution Fanfic by Quill N. Inque

I do not own X-Men.

Chapter 15: A New Beginning

One day later...

It was under a flawless, cloudless and azure sky that the foundations of the Eternal City tremble with the cheers and joyous shouts of its citizens. Countless Imperial banners flapped and waved slowly in the warm breeze atop the battle-scarred walls of Rome, battered yet gloriously triumphant in the wake of war, and throngs of the Empire's subjects turned out in the streets in jubilant celebration to hear their Emperor's victory speech. The enormous mass of humanity shook the skies with the collective force of their happy exclamations, and from high windows mothers and small children sent buckets upon of soft pink rose petals fluttering into the air. The streets of the Imperial capital became carpeted with the velvety, softly hued blossoms, which swirled and danced like tornadoes of exquisite color. The city of the Emperor, now swept clean of the horrors of war, trembled and shook under the pounding footfalls of the joyous mob as they reveled and screeched with delight, and in their thousands and tens of thousands they poured into the cobblestone lanes. Every last one of the sons and daughters of Rome rushed in happy throngs to where the Imperial Palace lay, pooling around the raised marble colonnade like the waves of a great ocean, and one thunderous, explosive cheer burst from a hundred thousand lips as Caesar Augustus himself, with Katrina at his ear, turned out in all his majestic glory. The flittering, feathery rose blossoms danced around the great monarch's head, several of them snagging in his crown of laurel leaves, and the Emperor's dark, damask cloak billowed theatrically behind him as he slowly descended the hewn stairway to be among his people.

Caesar held a hand up to signal for quiet, and the exuberant, deafening cries faded away as a smile split the regent's face. "Let it be heard and known from every shore and every mountain's spire," the Emperor intoned solemnly, "That the city of our fathers, of our people, still stands firm! Let this day of victory be remembered by our sons and the sons of their sons until the sun grows cold and oceans turn to sand! Let the birds sing of our triumph! Let the wind carry its whispers to every corner of the world! My people! My brothers and sisters!Rome stands free!"

Roars of assent and rounds of earsplitting applause greeted Caesar's proclamation, and it took several moments for the volume to recede enough that the Emperor could once more be heard.

"I say ours, for this day does not belong only to me," Caesar continued. "Such a thing is too great for any one man to claim. Today belongs to all, to each and every man, woman and child who dwells within the borders of Rome.

"But we must all keep in mind that such liberation does not come without a price," the Emperor added, his tone growing somewhat sad. "And we who have gathered here shall give glory undimmed to those who gave their blood in defense of Rome, to those who honored the Empire's call and gladly paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Let us not forget their sacrifice, for such valor and bravery is deserving of remembrance.

"But, though all who rose in arms are worthy of mention, there are two among us without whom the Empire could not have had its victory," the regent finished. "Let them now come forth, and be recognized for their service."

The masses of tightly packed humanity parted as cleanly as if cut with a knife, and the total, almost reverent silence that jarringly replaced the celebratory atmosphere sent goosebumps down one's back. Katrina was so thrilled at what happened next that she had to exert a mighty effort to smother the gleeful expression that threatened to show upon her face.

Kurzan Vortigern and Hazar, Lord of Thieves, emerged from somewhere among the throngs of people and fell perfectly in step as they heeded the Emperor's summons. Kurzan's face could have been carved from stone, such was the lack of expression he bore, but Hazar's enormous grin was bigger than a peeled banana.

Caesar nodded gravely at them. "Hazar, Lord of Thieves, I bid thee kneel," he thundered.

Kurzan's companion complied, his hair falling over his face as he dropped to one knee, and Caesar's blade exerted a gentle pressure as he tapped Hazar on each shoulder.

"For your assistance and willingness to come to the Empire's aid, I give to you and all those who side with you our most gracious pardon," the monarch said. "You are granted amnesty for your past sins, King of Thieves; wiped now clean is the slate of Hazar. Rise, and go with my blessing."

The leader of the Court of Rogues got to his feet once more, and the Emperor's expression became unreadable as he glanced down at the bowed, humbled form of Kurzan. The mutant's head was deeply bowed, his right arm cross over his chest in a gesture of fealty to his Master, and Caesar's face rippled with some unseen emotion as he addressed him.

"Kurzan Vortigern, Sword of the Empire, my most faithful servant…You have deceived me."

A collective gasp issued forth from the crowd, and Katrina's eyes became fearful as her uncle continued, "Do you think your Emperor blind, boy? Nothing happens within my household that does not reach my ears; I have seen and heard more than you know, and I have long been party to that which you have tried to conceal from me. I have seen the way you look at Katrina, child, and not a day has gone by when word of such things has not reached me."

The weapon at Caesar's waist slid dramatically out of its sheath, and Katrina felt a sob of horror escape her lips as the Emperor lifted Kurzan's chin with his blade-tip.

"Have you nothing to say in your defense?" the ruler asked quietly. "Have you no words of protestation, no statements to argue your innocence?"

Kurzan bowed his head once more, exposing the nape of his neck to Caesar's blade. "I do not, Master," he whispered. "For I cannot lie in your presence. Katrina has claimed my heart, and it shall be ever hers even unto death. I shall love her, even as the breath leaves my body, for she is more fair, more perfect and wonderful to me than anything else I have yet witnessed.

The young mutant raised his head and looked his liege right in the eye. "Strike me down as you will, my lord, but it whether or not I die makes little difference. I shall forever hold Katrina dear, and I shall die happily knowing that she feels the same for me. I love her, my Master, and no weapon forged of iron or steel, will ever be able to change that."

Tears began to leak out of Katrina's eyes. "No…" she moaned. "Uncle…Please…"

"You have spoken your piece, my Hand, and in doing so you leave me no choice," Caesar said grimly, hefting his sword over his head.

"NO!" the princess cried, her tone desperate and ragged as she clutched the sleeve of her uncle's robe. "You can't do this!"

The blade descended, and Kurzan waited for death to claim him at last-

-Only to open his eyes in shock as Caesar, at the last moment, turned his wrist away and sent the sword clanging to the ground, a thoroughly amused grin on his formerly hardened face as he casually kicked the weapon away.

"M-Master…?" Kurzan asked, so astounded at being spared decapitation that he could not finish his inquiry.

"I release you from my service, Kurzan Vortigern," Caesar said hoarsely. "On this day, with all of Rome as my witness, I hold your oath to me fulfilled." With a sweep of his hand, the Emperor gestured to his beloved niece, a watery yet happy glint in his eye whilst his tone reached a crescendo. "Look here, all of you, and be amazed that you have seen a display of such selfless love committed before me! Did you not gaze upon Kurzan with your own eyes, watching how boldly and fearlessly my vassal waited to die? Come and admire this man of such selfless duty, whose devotion and care to the one he cherishes gives him the bravery to speak that way to me! My generals and advisors watch their tongues when in my presence, and yet he, a servant, looked me in the eye and gave voice to his heart! Truly, you are a warrior born, Hand of mine, to hold and treasure Katrina so deeply that you treat your own well-being in contempt! Never before have I, your Emperor, seen such a thing, and now I declare that your years of service and duty to me have at last come to fruition! Because you have so clearly demonstrated the love you feel for my niece, and in recognition of your tireless service which has for so long gone unrewarded, I shall grant you that which you long for most of all. I, the Emperor upon my throne, decree that you may take my niece's hand and live henceforth as a free man of the Empire!

"May your days be blessed," The Emperor added, tears in his eyes.

Kurzan, true to his subservient nature, prostrated himself at Caesar's feet, but the Emperor shook his head vigorously as he bade the young mutant to stand.

"Nay, Kurzan," the monarch told him, clasping his shoulder tightly, "It is I who should bow to you."

Then Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man in all the known world, sank slowly to one knee as he bowed his head in a manner totally unexpected for one of his lofty station. In the sight of all, the master now bowed to the servant, and as Caesar's fine robes pooled around his ankles, every living person in Rome followed his example. In unison they knelt amidst a great rustle of cloth and scraping shoes, and the dumbfounded Kurzan blushed as Katrina took his hand in hers.

The princess wrapped her arms around him as though she would never let go, and the two of them looked each other in the eye before drawing into a slow, sweet, passionate kiss.

Cries of delight and astonishment from the citizens of Rome reached the princess's ears, and when she realized she needed to breathe, she reluctantly pulled away and pressed her head against the mutant's chest, looking up at him adoringly.

"I love you, Kurzan," she said simply, her words heartfelt and tender in their simplicity.

A solitary droplet of water leaked from Kurzan's golden eye as he beheld his treasure, his his everything, and he breathed in her scent like a sweet perfume before whispering back in her ear:

"I love you, too…Katrina."

And, although he did not say as much, and despite the fact that he did not deny or confirm it, it was understood by all that at this moment, Kurzan Vortigern, "The Emperor's Hand," had hung up his swords forever.

His future, a future with Katrina, lay ahead of him, a lifetime of joy and laughter of which he'd never tire.

And to the love-struck mutant's eyes, the world seemed just a little bit brighter.

~The End~

A/N: And thus, our story comes full circle, my friends. It is with both joy and sadness that I submit here this final chapter of my tale as a parting gift to you all. I will not deny that I am somewhat sad to see this yarn comet a close, but writing it for you, my readers, has been both an honor and a privilege. I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to read this story, and a special shout-out goes to all the people who reviewed: to Indigo-Night-Wisp, MaliceArchangela, AmuletSpade, Blueblue21, GracefulWolvesInTheNight, MovieGal007, love is killing me, Me and Gaara4ever, BrokenBridges, crazy technicolor mess, Caprichoso, Dragoncat, Anahbell, Lozzipalooza X, rockster0810, ObsessedWithNightcrawler, ElvenQueen18, ImNoHeroImTheVillain, TealEyedBeing, Christy-Flare, Acosta perez jose romero, Smiley656, scorpiogrl576, Blue-Red-Ninja, MadHatter0013, MeloveFuzzyDude, ObsessedwithKurtty, and Gabry, my dearest friend, who has been there since day one, I send my heartfelt thanks and gratitude for all your warm reviews, staunch support and useful feedback! With final exams approaching, I must for now put my quill aside. But my heart will always be here, with you, my friends, and in due time I shall return to the land of fanfiction as I have before.

I am Quill N. Inque, my friends.

And I'll see you… along the way