Blood had been shed. That much was obvious by the sharp, metallic smell that permeated the air. Bright red soaked the tattered curtains of the entrance and puddles had been mopped away to the sides. Stained walls were not meant to be hidden though, and rivulets of blood ran down, tantalisingly slow. The little furniture that was in the cubicle had fared no better. Splinters were scattered about. Stubborn droplets of blood refused to separate from a scroll in pieces. Whoever had done this had wanted vengeance. And by the putrid acidic smell that lingered in the air, and the wrecked appearance of the man that lay broken on the floor, they had gotten it.
His innards were piled onto the floor beside him, crushed by whomever had murdered him. Sunken skin, taking on the appearance of melted wax, covered his entire right side. The angles of his face were distorted, as if the bones had been shattered again and again, and his . In life, he had been a glittering peacock of a man. In death, it turned out that he too was fallible, and the witnesses clung to each other frantically.
One of the women put a trembling hand to her forehead and sank to the ground. Her palla fluttered around her. "He's dead. He is truly dead!"
As if the silence had only been bound by a simple spell, the women and men came to life. "How could this have happened? What will we do now? What about the banquet?" The woman's normally pale cheeks were flushed, and she accepted a surrounding helping hand delicately.
A man near her hissed. "Don't you understand? We've far more to worry about than your nonsensical dinner parties now."
All eyes were on her, and she spun on him, eyes flaring. "I won't have your demeaning behaviour anymore! Leave my villa immediately."
"Understand this, Aelia, the emperor is dead. You've no need for your social proclivities anymore. Now I demand you stop this nonsense!" He turned around, daring the others to contradict, but the echo of despair in their eyes was answer enough for all. The indignation had left the woman's eyes. The witnesses looked at each other, because the man had said what they had not wanted to acknowledge. The emperor of Rome was dead.
They would all fight or die fighting.
Sissi shifted her palla, moving it slightly so it would not touch the ground. As usual, the ground was slick with the blood and sweat of the slaves. They often came here to dawdle about, but today, she could not have that. She needed a slave or two to accompany her to Aelia's dinner party lest the insolent girl teased her about being under her mother's hand again. It did not matter that Aelia was four years older than her — she acted like a child! A spoiled, dumb child for that matter.
"You," She snapped her fingers at a huddling child, and turned around to face an older woman. "You two will accompany me to Aelia Nasica's dinner banquet and see to my safety."
"But your mother said you couldn't go." The child whimpered. Yes, the servants had undoubtedly gossiped about their argument earlier.
"That's no matter. You must do my bidding, must you not?"
"I am telling you two now to see to my safety as I travel about the streets of Rome, and you are questioning me?"
The woman stroked the child's golden hair. "Shush, child. Mistress, we are happy to do you as you tell as. After all, it is what we were born to do."
There was a hint of bitter air that lingered on the woman's words, but Sissi shook it off. There was a time and place for questioning her innumerable household slaves, but it was not now. "Let's head out then. I can't take the litter as it'll attract notice, but you two will cloak me as a slave and hold my jewellery, and we'll walk to Aelia's."
"You can use this palla," The woman offered.
She slipped the drab outer covering on. Her own pallae were much more colourful, consisting of rich blues and earthy greens, but she supposed it was just as well. No respectable noblewoman walked in the streets.
"Do I properly look a slave?"
"Yes, mistress." They chorused. The other servants turned wide eyes upon her, and she spoke with a tug of her finger. "We shall go now."
The entire villa had gone dark, save for a faint light from her father's study, and one from the weaving room. She crept out into the moonlight. The route they would take had been practiced many times. She needed no direction from the slaves, but she felt safer taking them indeed. The child would prove a welcome distraction from looking-men with greedy eyes and sausage fingers.
The two slaves walked behind her the entire route, as was tradition. She suspected the elder one had been in service long enough to know what Sissi was. The thought made her smile in delight. Most humans walked about Rome innocent of their true rulers. It was refreshing to know that some knew the dangers of the bloodline. Or, rather, as they were commonly spoken of in dark alleyways with shaking hands and trembling bodies, the vampires.
Sissi had pushed a quick pace to her destination and was about to announce her presence to the gatekeeper, but a faint smell stopped her in her tracks. If she tilted her head in the right direction, she thought she could detect iron. Could that be blood? And whose blood? Aelia kept humans as fond pets and was a perpetual fan of dieting, so it was unlikely that she'd be hosting a bloodfeast. But the scent was ever so familiar...
Her mouth watered. If Aelia was having a bloodfeast, it would only be proper that she joined.
"Caecilia," Aelia appeared in front of the gates. Her roseate hair was a jolt of light in the darkness. "You're here."
"I know, my mother said I couldn't come. I managed to sneak out though after she'd started her weaving."
Aelia shook her head sadly in such a way that Sissi thought it must be an act. The woman's violently pink hair tended to help with her appearance of innocence, and it infuriated Sissi to no end. "You must go immediately then. You mustn't be found here."
Trust it to be Aelia of all women to turn her away from a banquet she herself had invited Sissi to. "If my mother finds out, I swear I'll tell her it was my fault. Or I'll say it was the slaves' fault. Just let me in."
"Oh, you can't though."
She'd had enough. "I find this rather insulting of you to turn me away, Aelia Nasica."
The mask of desperation broke to reveal horror. "Oh, Sissi, it's absolutely horrible. If you want to know so badly, I'll tell you, but I'm saying this now, you will regret it."
"What are you saying?"
The woman exhaled heavily. "The emperor is dead." Her eyes rolled and as she swayed, Sissi had to dart forward to keep her from falling.
"The emperor? Who told you that?" In the name of the gods, what was Aelia going on about now? It wasn't proper for a Roman matron to get drunk, yet dizzy with drink the woman seemed.
The other woman righted herself. "No one told me. I saw him with my own eyes! You cannot doubt my testimony, Sissi. We are friends. Friends."
"Saw? What are you saying?"
"Yes, I saw —" A feral look came into her gaze. "Can you keep a secret?"
"I ask you again, what are you saying, Lia?"
"I don't know how, and I swear, I swear on my life that I've not anything to do with it, but..." If possible, her powdered face was paler than ever, resembling the sheen of marble, and she placed iron hands upon Sissi. "You must swear that you will stand by me. Swear!"
"You know I can't promise that. Tell me what happened."
Words tumbled out of a spitting mouth. "I'll tell you, because you obviously want to know so badly. The emperor was found, he was found dead. It was horrible. They found him bloodied and wrecked in a slave's cubicle. One of my slaves came to get me while I was entertaining the guests."
"The emperor was killed? You're jesting, are you not? This isn't funny!"
Her eyes were devoid of her usual cunning. "I would not jest about this."
"Pray to the gods, think about what this means for Rome..."
"We've come to the same conclusion, Sissi."
"How can this be?"
"The guests at my villa and I, we ask the same thing."
"And you sure he didn't commit suicide?"
"Yes, it is sure. The death is much too messy to be of his own hand. There's blood all over the room. We can all smell it. I invited some humans to the banquet too, and do you know what they think? They think there's a killer out there too."
She clasped her hands together. It was a chilly night for Rome indeed. "Oh no...wait, have you any clues on the killer? You've not mentioned this yet, but is there no scent at all on the emperor? Can't we find the killer?"
"That is the most dreadful news of all. He's no scent at all except for the blood that leaks everywhere about the cubicle."
"You really want to know, Sissi?" So many times she had thought Aelia a simpering fool, but perhaps she was wrong. Though Aelia was but the height of a ten-year-old child, her disposition was no longer bent and weak. "We've no clues. Someone has killed the emperor and there is a reason why he brought him to my villa. He wants to make a warring battleground out of Rome and emerge victorious."
"In other words, we are fighting against a deadly enemy."
She did not need Aelia's dejected nod as confirmation. The death of the emperor was enough.
A/N: I really shouldn't be doing this, but I wrote this out quickly, and, well, it had to be posted. :) I have so many ideas for this, and since for me, writing is purely for entertainment (I love it, but let's face it, I won't be making a living out of the stuff I write any time soon), this'll just be something I can play with. I've so many ideas for this, and I'm excited, since I can just mould everything to my delight. For now, there are two characters. Jeremie/Odd/Ulrich/Yumi will be making their appearance some way or the other. XANA will also creep his way into this jumbled mess somehow! Anyway, I hope you stick around for the ride because it's going to be a fun one — though no promises about how much sense it makes...
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading, and reviews are lovely and appreciated!